Reflections on teaching

This is an edited version of the reflective commentary attached to my portfolio of evidence for the completion of the PGCHE in June 2017. I have tried to edit it to take out anything that could be sensitive to my students or employer. If you would like to know anything about a particular incident, please do bob me an email (j dot m dot haigh at hud dot ac dot uk) and I can have a conversation with you. 

I should point out that the PGCHE as a qualification takes many forms, and this should not be seen as an example that is applicable to all of them. This is also MY experience, and should be read as such, rather than guidance for all librarians-you should always be reflective of your own experiences and how the context you work in will influence them. 

As with everything on this blog, I’m more than happy for stuff to be quoted, so long as you cite me (Jess Haigh) as the author. Thank you. 

  1. Context

What is Information Literacy?

There are many definitions of information literacy.  CILIP, the Library and Information Association, defines it as “knowing when and why you need information, where to find it and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner.” (CILIP, 2017). In the context of my teaching, I am often asked to instruct students on “library skills”, such as finding resources, evaluating them, and referencing.

There is a risk that, without being integrated or embedded into curriculums, information literacy could be seen as a series of generic skills supplementary to subject knowledge rather that a crucial part of academic competence and the University’s mission (Coonan, 2011, cited in Tewell, 2015). However, “where we search and to whom we listen will not only impact our views of our world, but it directly impacts who we are” (Swanson, 2005, p. 72). Improving information literacy skills is therefore vital to creating a competent and autonomous lifelong learner.

Over the past year I have been basing my practice on the Association of College and Research Libraries threshold concept based framework for information literacy, (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2015). I have been reflecting on the threshold concept theory since I first started reading about it 2015 and I now recognise that all frameworks can be seen as problematic, as they do not fully allow for individual choice and experience to flourish in a critical classroom (Drabinski and Sitar, 2016).  I need to reflect more on arguments for and against the use of threshold concepts in teaching, however this commentary will focus on how I have used them within teaching over the 2016/17 academic year.

I am well supported and encouraged within my reflective practice, as is important in developing good teaching (Wheeler and McKinney, 2015). I feel confident in having the autonomy and trust within my role to use a more critical approach to my teaching, as I believe this allows me to address the “why” questions more thoroughly, that will lead to deeper learning for the students.

Critical Information Literacy/teaching critical thinking more widely

“Critical Information Literacy is an approach to Information Literacy that acknowledges and emboldens the learner’s agency in the educational process. It is a teaching perspective that does not focus on student acquisition of skills, as Information Literacy definitions and standards do, and instead encourages a critical and discursive approach to information” (Tewell, 2015, p. 25).

Librarians have been changing the way they view “library skills” teaching over the past ten years, with more of us aiming to develop a “critical practice of librarianship-a theoretically informed practice” (Elmborg, 2006, p. 198). When the focus is switched from database demonstration to active learning, evaluating information and information sources, students are more engaged and rate the class time more favourably (Howard, Nicholas, Hayes and Appelt, 2014, p. 37).

Critical Information Literacy sees the development of the ability to interact with, question and evaluate information as “a necessary precursor to the development of a productive political consciousness” (Keer, 2009, p. 150). Information can be viewed as a social construct, created for specific uses, which are interpreted differently based on the own lived experienced of the consumer (Swanson, 2005). With a purpose of dismantling the oppressions that systems of information creation, storage and access perpetuate, the teaching of information skills is a form of promoting social justice within the classroom (Elmborg, 2006).

Critical information literacy looks at the way in which information sources are promoted to students through a critical lens. The creation of information is itself a political act which should be addressed in education. Critical information literacy examines the consequences of how information is used and shared, and how this creates a hierarchy of information users, which ultimately supports a hegemony and unequal power structure (Franks, 2009). Critical Information Literacy classrooms “study problems identified by and of consequence to the learners” (Tewell, 2015, p.27), this influences how I have planned classes to make sure I am covering the skills gaps that the students are concerned about.

A Teaching and Learning Strategy 

According to Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall (2015), being an effective HE teacher requires one to incorporate effective institutional and national standards into one’s own practice. The aim of Higher Education is for students to leave University being able to solve problems critically; to understand relationships between concepts and to use this knowledge in their approach to problems; to apply independent judgement and to “participate competently in the social practices of their chosen profession” (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p. 64). Being a student in HE is supposed to be a transformational process, as it empowers students with greater autonomy over their learning and gives them the tools to develop their critical skills (Brockbank and McGill, 2007).

There is often a gap between student understanding of what it means to participate in an academic community of practice, and that of their tutors (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p.72), something I have found evident with some of the students I work with. Being academically literate means mastering competencies, such as selecting appropriate academic sources for analysis in order to follow scholarship as a conversation, and producing texts that would only ever be valued in academia (Elmborg, 2006).  Librarians are part of student support services that should be helping them to develop their academic literacies, including information literacy (Elmborg, 2006, p. 196).

It has been established within the literature that tutors that liaise with the library better prepare the “path for independent learning” (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p.176), and I see part of my wider teaching role in preparing a learning environment across the campus, not just within the classroom. Making learning resources more easily accessible and allowing students to improve their studying habits in more sophisticated ways (such as thinking of how space and environmental stimulation affects studying) is part of my role both as a librarian, and as a teacher.

Where my teaching fits within the School

On librarians as teachers, Accardi (2013) states, “It is better to be on the margins than be recognised as full citizens of the university culture, because it is in the margins that we ironically have more freedom. We may still be answerable to the campus requirements for teaching and learning, but we can also still be answerable to ourselves and our own politics in the classroom” (Accardi, 2013, 69). Teachers’ pedagogic practices can often be shaped or constrained by the hegemonic expectations of their institution, or their status as academics (Burke, 2015). As a librarian, I exist parallel to this hegemony, not fully part of the paradigm academics belong to. This often gives me more freedom to experiment with my pedagogy than subject tutors.

“The librarian may, in her capacity as secondary authority figure to the professor, be able to encourage more flexibility in the ways her students interact with her and the material being discussed” (Keer, 2009, p. 155).

Information literacy teaching should be informed by the context in which it sits, Simmons says “Information literacy should be informed by the ways in which communities write, read, speak and research, as well as the assumptions they make, and the epistemologies with which they create their arguments” (Simmons, 2005, p. 52). As I primarily teach trainee teachers I am conscious that I am performing examples of practice that will shape them as teachers themselves.

  1. Model of reflection

Librarians are already encouraged to be reflective practitioners of their own profession, whether through teaching, individual encounters on the issue desk, or through developing and maintaining their collections (Franks, 2009), and I carry this model through to my teaching. Without reflection, teachers have “one year’s experience repeated nineteen times” (Biggs and Tang, 2011, p.45). This really resonates with me, as there are many conversations within librarianship about changing how we view information literacy, rather than doing the same thing we as a community have always done, that I think parallel the need for reflection as a teacher.

Reflection can only begin once ideas have been tried out in practice (Brockbank and McGill, 2007), and I therefore introduce new activities or change around my lessons throughout the year and then reflect on them, making appropriate changes and trying them again. This is a cyclical process that in ongoing, rather that looking to find a perfect stopping point, as my students’ needs are constantly shifting. I understand reflection to be a two-way process, which questions established ideas (Brockbank and McGill, 2007). I also agree with Dewey’s view of education as a lifelong process, without a need for formal aims (Brockbank and McGill, 2007). Dewey says you learn by doing, which is how I see my reflective cycle; I try something out, I reflect on the outcomes and adapt it, and I try it again. This is more difficult given the limited time I have with the students, but seeing as I am teaching very similar skills across multiple classes it is possible.

Biggs and Tang (2011) discuss how good teaching is not about what the teacher is doing, but what the students are learning. I have tried to be mindful of this within the classroom. When I started teaching I very much saw it as a performance where I would be judged on my actions; over the past year I have instead tried to concentrate on what the students are doing in the classroom and outside of it that transforms them into autonomous learners, and encourages them to question and create solutions for problems they encounter.

Brookfield’s Critical lenses

Throughout my reflections on my teaching over the course of the year I have been inspired by Brookfield’s critical lenses approach (Brookfield, 2015, p.20), where I have tried to view my actions and assumptions through the eyes of my students, my colleagues and (primarily) the educational literature, which I find the most helpful.  I have a very different experience of education to the students within my School (I come from a creative arts background originally, and completed my Higher Education through distance learning whilst working full time), and therefore I have approached the fourth suggested lens of my own learning autobiography as initially an unhelpful one in my context. Having reflected on this I am growing aware that the purpose of the autobiographical lens is to learn from, rather than apply experiences directly to your own teaching, and so I shall be attempting to view my teaching next year through all four of Brookfield’s lenses.

Examples of my viewing actions through a student lens would be my development of feedback; of my colleague’s through team teaching library workshops and taking part in peer observations. This year I have observed two lessons and being observed twice. I found observing, which I have never done, extremely useful for reflecting on my own teaching, as I could see more clearly the reactions of students to the material and activities presented to them. I could also reflect on how I similarly use activities, or do things very differently, and “log” how the atmosphere in the classroom changed accordingly (Brookfield, 2015, p. 214).

This reflective piece is for the most part an exploration of my use of the educational literature to explore and expand my teaching reflecting through the narratives of others and theoretical analysis.

  1. My use of theory

Like Brookfield, I believe that learning to think critically “is the overarching aim of higher education” (Brookfield, 2015, p. 246). I also believe that until students have the skills to learn autonomously they cannot be truly critical thinkers, as they will be reliant on authoritative voices for opinions rather than forming their own conclusions based on good evidence they can independently find themselves. I find my work as a teacher-librarian facilitates this approach to Higher Education, as I teach the skills required for autonomous, independent research that encourages critical thought, and reading and experiencing a wider range of information in order to form well-informed opinions and to engage in and encourage scholarly conversations.

In my reading this year, it has become apparent that teachers often have great aims for promoting learner autonomy, but do not design teaching with theory in mind (Brockbank and McGill, 2007). I have been guilty of this, in creating sessions with activities that are fun and engaging, without thinking enough about how they embed learning gains (Reflective blogpost on using theory). My focus this year has been on developing my knowledge of educational theory, and pedagogy, as “teaching for creativity requires a pedagogical stance that is facilitative, enabling, responsive, open to possibilities, collaborative and which values process as much as outcomes” (Jackson, 2005, p. 19).

I always try and demonstrate an enthusiasm for what I am teaching, as this is, I find, a positive way of motivating and inspiring students (Eshleman and Obst, 2015). Students will have deeper learning in a relaxed environment (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015), and one in which they feel safe, so part of my use of theory is looking at how better to facilitate an atmosphere where one can fail safely, or admit to not understanding a concept in order to actually learn about it. Changing established viewpoints, or expanding the schemata can be an emotional process, and part of this “safer spaces” approach to teaching is to recognize and reflect on ways of experiencing “troublesome knowledge” in the classroom without increasing student or teacher anxiety (Graf, 2016). Through demonstrating enthusiasm and trying to appear as friendly and approachable as possible, I am trying to acknowledge that although thinking about things such as referencing and searching in new and critical ways can be scary and unusual, it is also exciting and important, and through reflecting on why we find thinking about information critically troublesome allow students to come to their own conclusions about their information experience within the current hegemonic information society. This approach has led to me having a good relationship with my students and a positive reputation within the school; I have received frequent thanks from student panels and students that come to one to ones do so after being recommended to speak to me by their peers.

I reject teaching that encourages surface approaches to learning. I no longer plan classes that teach database instruction as a series of point-and-clicks, for example. This pedagogy conflicts with what I know of student’s preferred autonomous learning through demonstrational videos shared on social media platforms. It would be interesting to research how demonstrational video approaches to learning conflict with educational theories of how learning occurs, and if their popularity is through them leading to greater understanding, or purely through the ease in which instruction can be accessed.


As shall be seen in the section on lesson planning, I take a broadly cognitive approach to scaffolding my lessons, allowing for students to assimilate ideas into their already existing world view, before facilitating the critical analysis of these concepts, and thus their world view as a whole. Biggs and Tang (2011) say that the best kind of teaching is student centred, with its purpose being to support learning, and it is this that I try and emulate within the classroom, whilst also being mindful of maintaining a space where students can feel safe to have powerful, critical ideas.  I want students to leave my classroom with “functioning knowledge”, where they are not just able to “perform” skills (Biggs and Tang, 2011, p.82), but have a real understanding of how they can be used throughout their lives.


Constructivism “views learning as process of building and adjusting the structures of the mind through which we hold knowledge” (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p. 66). Constructing knowledge gives meaning to people, places and things in the world (Mooney, 2013).  Any knowledge that is constructed is done so through the interpretation of existing schemata (Biggs and Tang, 2011), which need to be adjusted to incorporate new knowledge. Adult learners, who have a multitude of varying life experiences, may find this process challenging, however learning will not be retained in a constructivist model unless their existing schemata can be adjusted.

“Teaching is not a matter of transmitting, but of engaging students in active learning, building their knowledge in terms of what they already understand” (Biggs and Tang, 2011, p. 25). Active teaching and learning methods that encourage higher-level thinking, such as the evaluation and analysis of problems in order to solve them, help students in the retention of information more that didactic fill-up-the-brain lecturing (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p.97). Students also come to classes with a variety of experiences and ideas related to information literacy, and acknowledging this makes the lessons more pertinent to them (Peterson, 2009).

I model my practice on the theory of constructivism, because I wish students to be able to “recognise and utilise [their] autonomy” (Brockbank and McGill, 2007, p. 61) as information literate people. This forms part of my wider belief that transformative HE experiences result in autonomous critical thinkers who are aware of the social injustices within the information society and are equipped to actively challenge them. Constructivism allows students to form lifelong learning habits that suit them, both inside and outside the classroom.

The theory of threshold concepts, through which I model my curriculum, also arose from the constructivist approach (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p.73). Once Information Literacy is stopped being viewed as a series of competencies, and instead is seen as “a social practice that expands beyond information gathering skills” (Townsend, Brunetti and Hofer, 2011, p. 856), one can begin to build on knowledge to construct meaningful interactions and competencies to live within the information society. Education is about change, rather than just acquiring information (Biggs and Tang, 2011), and I believe that threshold concepts are aligned to this in the way they speak of transformative change through understanding concepts, rather than learning isolated knowledge or skills. I do know that there are arguments against the use of threshold concepts within education, some of which are explored in the chapters of Pagowsky and McElroy (2016) and others that are in development, and I look forward to reflecting more on these issues.

Critical pedagogy

When students enter HE, they enter into an educational system that has several power structures exercising control over decisions that affect their progress and learning (Brockbank and McGill, 2007). The HE system is not value free, and exists in a hegemony. Pedagogy should seek to bring about social change by raising consciousness about oppression (Accardi, 2013) and this forms the basis for my teaching. I also acknowledge that there is no such thing as a power-free classroom (Brookfield, 2015, p. 243), and to reject my own authority in the classroom is to cede authority to the “authoritarian power of the education system” (Keer, 2016, p. 69).

I am aware that, whilst needing to incorporate students’ lived experiences and, as suggested by Frierian critical pedagogy, create moments for challenging oppressions within the classroom, I as a teacher must create a space for people to work through the anxieties presented when previous knowledge is challenged and new, “troublesome” knowledge incorporated (Meyer, Land and Baillie, 2010). This can lead to a highly charged emotional atmosphere in classrooms I facilitate, which is often not expected by students when taught by a librarian. Change of mind creates emotions that can be managed by teachers, and this is a vital part of my practice, as I am also aware of the need for my very limited time with students to be a promotion for library services in general, not to create or to increase any existing library anxiety.

Pedagogies of discomfort “re-examine the hegemonic values inevitably internalised in the process of being exposed to curriculum and media that serve the interests of the ruling class” (Boler and Zembylas, 2003, p.115). By disturbing students into new ways of thinking that are productive to moving beyond their zone of proximal development, teachers are encouraging deeper learning that will carry on outside of the classroom. I am aware, however, that I do not want students to be so disturbed that they reject the learning opportunities out of fear (Brookfield, 2015). I am therefore conscious of creating in my classroom an atmosphere of safety, when troublesome knowledge and critical thoughts can be expressed.

According to the literature, some students do not welcome discussion based, critical classrooms (Carillo, 2007), or reject “what is educationally good for them”, (Covill, 2011, p. 94). I have never experienced active resentment towards my teaching activities, though there have been students who have chosen not to contribute in discussions, or play a part in group work with the same enthusiasm as others. Using the lens of professional literature, though, I must remain aware that many students are fearful of exposing themselves through classroom discussion, and do prefer clearly structured lessons where they are conscious throughout of what they should “know” (Burke, 2015, p. 393).

Within my portfolio version I included reflection of an incident that happened within one of my classes during a discussion which I have removed because in refers to a particular student. 

Transformative learning

I want to transform my students into autonomous, lifelong learners equipped with the critical skills and academic literacies to succeed in and outside of the modern University environment. I wish to avoid transmittive learning, “a primarily didactic one way transmission of knowledge from expert teacher to dependent student learner” (Brockbank and McGill, 2007, p.60), because within a critical information literacy framework, this is pointless; an educational environment that promotes critical thinking is vital for information literacy (Ladenson, 2009).

Accardi’s advice for teacher-librarians wanting to use a critical pedagogy is,  “rather than focus on how to use a particular tool, focus on critical thinking skills and how they can be deployed across any library platform” (Accardi, 2013). Students are unlikely to come across the paid for databases and discovery services outside of University (Cimbricz and Rath, 2015), therefore my teaching outcomes aim to equip students with skills that mean they can take responsibility for their own learning, having passed through the threshold to understand the wider concepts involved in the use, creation and consumption of information.

Students have better learning gains when they find the subject matter interesting, as they are intrinsically motivated to learn (Biggs and Tang, 2011). Part of my challenge is to sell the idea that being an information literate learner is vital to achieving a greater understanding of their main subject, which they are presumably more intrinsically interested in, but also that information in and of itself is a interesting thing to learn about. If students only want to learn “library skills” in order to tick a box on their summative assessment, i.e. they are extrinsically motivated, they will not encounter the deeper, transformative learning gains that will allow them to be autonomous, critical, lifelong users, creators and consumers of information within the information society. Transformative learning of information literacy is for me vital to promotion of social justice, and therefore I do use social motivation within my teaching, as this gives the students reasons to see my time with them as worthwhile and meaningful to them.

Within my portfolio version I included reflection of an incident that happened within one of my classes during a discussion which I have removed because in refers to a particular student. 

  1. My students in their context

“The cultural apparatus that serve to oppress women and perpetuate oppression of marginalized people do not disappear once a teacher or a student walks into a classroom” (Accardi, 2013, p. 25). 

The classes that I have taught this year vary from larger groups of 80-90 students, to very small groups of five to ten. My preference is for smaller groups, not only because it is easier to plan activities that have them moving around the classroom and using their hands with less students, but also because larger classes limit the opportunities for peer learning with more competent students (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015). I can also easily capture moments of learning and expand on them when I can monitor most of the interactions happening in the room which is a lot easier when there are less students to survey. Unfortunately, as many librarians will empathize,  I have very little say as to the group size or classroom space allocated to my teaching.

I primarily view lecturing as a didactic nature of imparting information that is oppressive, with the authority figure performing to a crowd of empty vessels, though according to Covill, students report that they see them as beneficial to learning (Covill, 2011). I find the approach of delivering slides boring for myself and the audience, and I also believe that librarians should respect the diverse learning needs of students and the importance of “teaching as your authentic self” (Tewell, 2014, p. 29).

I believe I am competent at public speaking and delivering a lecture through feedback I have received in previous years from peer observations of lectures and conference speeches I have delivered, but I do not like teaching in lecture theatres as I believe they lessen the opportunities for active learning. This year I have included activities in lecture theatre setups to try and break the invisible boundaries imposed by the space, such as playing pass the parcel as a warm up activity, and having students make paper airplanes from their feedback sheets that they aim to thrown across the lecture hall to the front (Reflective blog on pass the parcel as a warm up).

In general, however, I teach groups of around 20-30 students in classroom settings, either within the School, or teaching areas in the library.

Adult learners and “Widening Participation”

Most of the students that I teach are not traditional students. Many are mature students completing post-graduate programmes, or entering HE for the first time. Throughout my reading this year I have been reflecting on the differences between teaching adults and children and have found the concept of andragogy, “a school of thought specific to teaching adults” (Cooke, 2010, p. 209) useful in contemplating how sessions made up of mature students often have much more student-involvement in their learning processes as they are more highly motivated to learn.

Adult learners need to learn academic literacies in the same way that traditional students do, but often with less time and from a distance (Cooke, 2010). Many of the adult students I teach are completing courses part-time, in order to fit them in around their other responsibilities. We also have a large number of students studying Lifelong Learning teaching qualifications at Consortium Colleges across the UK, who will very rarely come to the University. Myself and colleagues from the library and the School of Education have come up with a range of workshops for these students, which run on Saturdays throughout the year, called Transform It. Although this is related to my workplace, I have spoken about Transform It at professional conferences, so believe it to be appropriate to include here. 


Transform it poster

Transform It Critically Reading a Journal Article Lesson Plan

Transform It Lego Serious Play plan

Transform It Referencing Lesson Plan

Transform It Reviewing Quality of a Journal Article Lesson Plan

Transform It Search Strategies Lesson Plan

Pictures from Transform It 2016

Conference Paper on Transform It, LILAC 2016

A large proportion of my students are first-generation HE students, many living at home, either in the town or the wider area, commuting to University rather than living in halls or student rental accommodation. My students therefore typically have many pressures outside of University life, including caring responsibilities, full or part time jobs, or conditions at home that affect their ability to study effectively. Part of my role as a critical practitioner is to recognise these challenges and respect them within my teaching provision.

According to Brookfield (2015, p.231), “learning, by definition, involves change”. For an adult to abandon a current working practice takes more than being exposed to a different theory, they must interact with this new knowledge and accommodate it into their own experience of the world (Ackermann, 2001). Students are more focussed when activities are given personal significance, rather than “aloof, imposed from external environments” (Brockbank and McGill, 2007), p.22), and this is particularly relevant with adult learners, who already have a wide schemata of experiences to absorb knowledge into.

From my experience, many students who are new to Higher Education, or are returning after a break, fail to prepare for autonomous study (Burke, 2015). Part of my job as I see it is therefore to help students integrate with academic literacy standards, which are unknown in the outside world (Elmborg, 2006). As Seeber puts it, “citing is weird” and “largely does not exist outside of academia and scholarly publishing” (Seeber, 2016, p. 132).  This year, therefore, I have made an effort to avoid jargon, or to make sure I am explaining the terms I use. This includes terms such as “referencing” and “citation”, which can be a cause of anxiety within the student body (Eshleman and Obst, 2015).

I do not “dumb down” what I teach students, as “students who are required to work harder have been found to be more satisfied with their student experience” (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p. 164), but I believe that it is possible to nurture students whilst teaching them. To view the role of caring helper as inappropriate within Higher Education is sexist, as it places the feminised values of care below the elitist patriarchal values of resilience, and “legitimises certain forms of pedagogic practice associated with elite universities” (Burke, 2015, p. 395). Viewing caring roles as inappropriate within teaching is therefore against the principals of wider participation.

The range of abilities in the classroom grows greater as participation levels in University rise (Biggs and Tang, 2011). In 2015, participation stood at 48% for 18 year olds, up from 42% in 2007 (Department for Education, 2016), and is expected to continue to rise. This puts more pressure on teachers to differentiate in classrooms, and for librarian-teachers to support students from a wider range of backgrounds.

With many schools and FE college students now no longer having access to professional librarians with training in information literacy facilitation because of cuts to library funding, more and more students will come to University unaware of the skills needed to participate effectively in the academic community. Good teaching involves having all students, not just more “academic” ones, “to use the level of cognitive processes needed to achieve the intended outcomes”, and giving students control over their own learning (Biggs and Tang, 2011, p. 58). Using support teaching staff time to “upskill” students who have had less access to academic literacy facilitation accommodates differentiation within the University body as a whole. Students, however, must be motivated to go through the transformative process I am facilitating for them before deeper learning can occur. Making “library skills” meaningful to students who have never experienced them before is therefore vital to my success as a librarian-teacher.

International Students

Over the past year I have tried to be more conscientious in working with International Student groups, and with students who do not have English as a first language who come for one to one support. Suggestions such as Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall’s (2015) to not use colloquialisms or idioms are ones that I have found difficult to put into place, as policing my own use of language whilst trying to conduct fluid discussion is hard, but I believe that students appreciate the efforts made.

I am also growing more aware of how some of my pedagogic habits do not translate to some students and how hard it must be to adapt to UK Western-centric approaches, especially those that may go against their cultural norms, such as not questioning authority figures. One that I am most concerned of it my disposition to discussions within the classroom, as part of my critical practice. Brookfield points out that in some cultures, speaking out and giving your own opinions can be viewed as “getting above yourself” (Brookfield, 2015, p.16). Burke (2015) also notes that some students from marginalised communities may choose silence above being seen as oddities in the classroom, as a form of protest against the dominant group’s knowledge including experiences of the oppressed.

I am also conscious that some cultures do not see speaking in turn as polite; what I (from a middle class white British Northern-English culture) would think of as rude and butting is is actually part of a “layered and simultaneous speech pattern” (Brookfield, 2015, p. 221). By being aware of these cultural differences I can start to reconsider my methods used in classrooms to make them more inclusive to the variety of cultures represented. I can also look at promoting alternative forms of support, such as individual tutorials, where I can better gage a student’s level of information literacy without the need for large group discussion.

All my classes are diverse in some aspect, whether that is the nationalities of the students, their educational background and attainment level, or their age or socioeconomic background. I have found that this year the most appropriate response to a diverse classroom is being flexible, making sure that everyone is represented, and using various approaches depending on the students’ preferences (Brookfield, 2015). Through concentrating on “enabling transition from dependent to autonomous learning” (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p.153), I am giving students the skills needed to be information literature no matter their background or personal circumstances, thus contributing to social justice within HE.


  1. Planning

The problem of one-shots

The majority of the classes I have previously taught have been what is known to librarians as “one-shots” (Peterson, 2009, p. 72). I see the students once per year, for a limited time,  and have to cram as much information about using library services as possible in that time (Keer, 2009). Accardi (2013) says, “whilst the one shot class has its own set of challenges, it also has more flexibility that progressive librarians can take advantage of and subvert for progressive purposes” (p.69).

This year I have discovered through reflection that good planning makes all the difference to enable good learning (Brookfield, 2015). Biggs and Tang (2011) state that “good learning is important only if you know why, when and how you should do it” (p.201). As I reflect on various classes I have taught this year, I am aware that I have always felt more critical and transformative learning has occurred in lessons that I have thoroughly planned myself, than in sessions that I have done that have been designed by others that would not be teaching the content, or in sessions that I have covered for other people.

As my lessons are supplementary to the student’s main curriculum (though the subject matter is an important part of their academic skills), I have to be aware of what the student’s course programme is, so that my sessions ensure a coherent rather than fragmented programme of library skills (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015). This last year I have been able with some courses to plan a series of lessons over a number of weeks. This has allowed me to introduce concepts and build on them, which I never normally get to do with one-shots. I have however still had to design and conduct a large number of one-shot sessions.

For sessions with third year groups, or sessions in the last term of the year, I like to use the opportunity to also get feedback on the library services as a whole. This not only gives students a chance to feel valued at the beginning of the session, but is useful for my service. This activity formed part of one of the sessions I was observed in, and I had positive feedback from my colleague who saw me asking for feedback left through writing what they thought about the library on flip chart paper with sharpies; she said she saw all students contribute and feel part of the lesson as a result.

Using lesson plans

When creating lesson plans, I have been conscious of the need to use a variety of teaching activities in order to allow for students with different needs and levels of understanding to all participate and achieve learning gains, and for students who already possess high information literacy and awareness to be stretched. This is why the formulation of learning outcomes is a vital part of my lesson planning process; activities should be chosen based on how much they will lead to the outcomes being attained, not how much fun you are to have in your lesson-something that I have struggled with this year, as I am so conscious of students finding “library skills” a boring subject!

Biggs and Tang (2011) give advice to teachers that they should, when planning a lesson, be thinking about what it is the students are to learn, what it means for the students to “understand” the content you are delivering, and what kind of teaching activities are required to achieve the required levels of understanding. I use the introduction of learning outcomes to the students as a means of justifying the lesson time to them, as often students are unconvinced with the validity of library skills sessions within their timetable, and to allow time for negotiation if they do not reflect the student’s need (Brookfield, 2015). I have had cases where the lecturers who have booked lesson time with me have given rather vague instructions of what the students need to learn more about, along the lines of “library skills”, which I have then had to interpret, and then negotiate with the student once in the classroom. Having a conversation with students at the start of sessions (which is much easier to facilitate in smaller groups) provides a common understanding of what both the students and myself will get out of the time spent together (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015).

Learning objectives – Bloom’s taxonomy

“Learning outcomes should be specific, meaningful, appropriate, realistic and testable” (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p.89). 

I have found the biggest challenge this year to be in the writing of learning objectives. I use Bloom’s taxonomy, which focusses on “the changes produced in individuals as a result of educational experiences” (Bloom, 1956, p.11). I find some of the values behind the taxonomy problematic, for example where intended behaviours/outcomes represent the social goals of society, as opposed to undesirable or abnormal behaviors (Bloom, 1956, p.13). My teaching of critical information literacy specifically promotes socially undesirable behaviour, as it is in the interests of the neoliberal hegemony to maintain the uncritical consumption of information within HE.

Throughout the year, most of the learning outcomes in my sessions have been on the cognitive domain, because I still was associating my teaching with being able to do something, or know something new at the end of it. Brockbank and McGill (2007) say the the domain used in practice is likely to reflect the theoretical model of the teaching, but this was not my experience of teaching. Once I had reflected on this I realised that it is having an emotional reaction to something that results in transformational learning (Zembylas and McGlynn, 2012), and this is what drives the affective domain.  I am ultimately striving for a transformation of attitude towards information in my classroom, and “learning outcomes should determine the choice of learning method” (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p.90). Through reflecting on why I was finding it difficult to plan lessons using my prescribed learning outcomes and still manage to maintain a critically reflexive praxis, I made a change to the domain I dominantly use in planning, and am creating more affective lesson plans as a result.

The learning gains of students between them entering and leaving the learning environment are largely determined by the processes they have undertaken in their time within that space (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p. 197) and these changes may not match the original learning objectives laid out in the lesson plan. I believe, having reflected on my teaching through a critical pedagogical lens, that this does not mark a failure within the lesson, but that a transformative process has led to change both in the student’s mind or skillset, and at attitude of myself as a teacher towards what I believe it is important for them to know.


As part of my stretching the students to achieve deeper learning through passing through threshold concepts and critically exploring information in my session, scaffolding sessions to allow for opportunities to student to practice with their Zones of Proximinal Development (Vygotsky, cited in Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p.71) is an important part of my lesson planning I have been developing over the course of the year. This was something I was doing without realising it, however after my first peer observation of my teaching, where my planning was complemented, and after learning about Vygotsky’s theories in a Learning Set (Blogpost on using theory to inform practice), I have looked at my planning through a more critical lens.

How 1:1 support differs – flexibility

Part of my practice that I think works well is establishing myself as a flexible resource to be used by my students when they need me. Many of my students coming from educational backgrounds where additional support was minimal and usually restricted to students with specific and measurable needs, and I believe that this does affect the way students see librarian help services. I find that the majority of students make appointments when they are desperate for help, or pushed to do so by the tutor. Many students may not realise additional support is available, although I do find when I make outreach efforts they are appreciated by students, who are more willing to ask for help if they see you as having a personal relationship with them (Eshleman and Obst, 2015).

This year I have made efforts to work with academic tutors to promote librarian 1:1 support, through the help desk, which does not require students to make appointments and is therefore more flexible for them. I have also provided support sessions within the School itself, booking a space in the School for whole mornings or afternoons, and advertising my availability. My challenge for the 2017/18 academic year is to reflect on how to better promote 1:1 support that is available without the need for an appointment.

  1. The use of formative assessment

The literature I have read suggests that students should be able to learn from their mistakes throughout the learning process (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015). When teaching information literacy as a series of threshold concepts, it is the level of student understanding of the whole I am assessing, and therefore the idea of students “making mistakes” is a slightly false concept within this context. There are some subject I do teach, however, such as referencing, which, whilst still a part of a larger concept (that scholarship forms conversations and that citing is part of that process) have to be done in certain ways in order for students to pass their summative assessments graded by academic tutors. It is therefore important that I formatively assess student’s understanding of referencing within my class time in order for them to pass summative assessments. Evaluating student learning also gives me authoritative power within the classroom, which leads to a separation of student/teacher (Brookfield, 2015). I can assess students based on my own judgements, which I, in my position of “expert” can assign value to. Using this power wisely and responsibly within a classroom is part of creating a critical learning space, and part of being a teacher rather than a gatekeeper (Brookfield, 2015, p. 194).

Learning must be meaningful for students in order for deep learning to occur (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015), and students in my experience are worried that they will get referencing “wrong” and lose marks.Inappropriate assessment, in my case in only relying on summative assessment conducted by tutors, allows for students to believe that memorising things leads to an understanding of them (Biggs and Tang, 2011, Carillo, 2007). I think of this of learning the “hows” not the “whys”. Students who only learn how to reference, for example, in order to pass a summative assessment, are not gaining a deep understanding of the contexts in which referencing can be used, and how this relates to the conversation of wider scholarship. Through encouraging thinking about the “why” process of academic information skills such as referencing, I am allowing students to develop the lifelong skill of discovery.

Why we reference powerpoint used to explore this issue.

Using activities as assessment

When I started teaching I very much wanted my classes to be fun, over the course of this year I have changed to instead trying to understand the meaning of the activities for the students (Mooney, 2013); how each activity can be used to build on their knowledge, and transform their understanding of the content (Covill, 2011). As I am using formative assessment within the classroom, activities are also used to check the learning on the students throughout the lesson.

Accardi defines active learning as knowledge being collaboratively discussed and created by students and teachers together, as opposed to students being passive vessels (Accardi 2013). I use active learning techniques, and a range of activities throughout my sessions in order to introduce new concepts, explore them critically, absorb them into the current schemata of the students, and then formatively assess learning gains as and when they occur.


Peer Learning

I tend to do a lot or peer-learning focussed activities,  as firstly the students have usually never met me before, but do know each other, so as a way of inciting energy into the classroom having them talking and learning from each other (with me listening in for topics to come back to in whole group discussion) works better than them listening to a didactic lecture from a teacher they do not know.

Peer-learning also allows students to have moments of reflection within the classroom (Brookfield, 2015). Critical learning “requires conditions that enable the learner to reflect upon her learning, not by herself, but with others” (Brockbank and McGill, 2007, p.5). Dewey wrote of the need for the opportunity to do things within the learning environment that could then be discussed with others as part of the reflective process of learning (Dewey, 1916), for “social and collaborative learning leads to much better learning gains” (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p. 206).

Peer assessment

I encourage peer assessment within the classroom as part of peer learning, although I have only ever done this in an informal way, such as asking the group during discussions what they think about another group’s work, or using a pose, pause, pounce and bounce approach-asking students a question, listening to their answer, then asking another student what they think about that answer. As Accardi (2013, p62) states, “Focusing on the student’s voice and the validity of their experience, feminist teachers value student learning and experience”.

I see valuing student voice within the classroom as a vital part of promoting social justice in Higher Education. I would like to see students marking each other’s work, or evaluating other student’s literature searching, and this may form parts of future curriculums. Peer assessment “can help students understand the expected standards of the discipline more than anything else” (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2015, p.114). Peer learning and peer assessment also allows students to “drive the content of the session” (Lange, Canuel and Fitzgibbins, 2011), following Frierian guidelines for teaching to be student focused.

CRITICAL INCIDENT adaptation of chalk talk



This year I have changed the way I collect feedback from students, after trialing several methods using various tools, including online tools. I believe that collecting feedback is an important part of the reflective process, in improving my teaching, finding out what works and what doesn’t, but also in assessing the understanding of the transformations happening within the session.(Reflective blogpost on developing feedback triangles)


Feedback triangle


7. Use of Technology 

I have always regarded the use of technology in the classroom as a way to begin discussion or to frame a lesson to encourage engagement, not just to break up a lesson or be fun. Brookfield says of the use of voting technologies, for example, “the point is not the vote, but the discussion that follows that explores why students made the choice they did” (Brookfield, 2015, p. 30), and I very much frame the use of technologies in my lesson using the same principal. This year I have explored the use of interactive web tools such as Kahoot!, Mentimeter and I have also been involved in a research project where I have developed an online activity using NearPod. I reported on my findings at a librarian’s teaching conference, LILAC, and I am going to present the activity at the University’s Teaching and Learning Conference in September.

I would like to use the NearPod exercise as part of a “flipped classroom” approach, so that students can learn the technicalities of searching in their own time, though this I recognise is problematic, as not all students have spare time.

Conference paper on using NearPod, LILAC 2017

Nearpod activity 1

Nearpod activity 1a

Nearpod resource screenshots

TALI blog summing up project

I have grown more aware this year of the importance of having video tutorials available on YouTube for students to use, and I am considering developing a series of online video tutorials in the style of TED talks, as these appear to be the student’s preferred self-selected learning method. This requires more research and reflection into how students use demonstrational videos and recorded lectures within their own time for self-guided learning and how I can exploit this within my teaching practice.

I have made several videos which I have shared through my YouTube channel, using various video creation software, including VideoScribe, which I found took a long time to learn but was shared the most often, and Adobe software, which was much easier! Reflecting on making these videos, I should have thought more about accessibility, as I have included all capitals in parts. I did think about not having music playing behind the videos in order not to distract from the content, but these video making softwares are not designed in ways that makes accessibility an initial concern.

Keyword search video scribe script

Keyword searching video scribe

Biggs and Tang (2011, p.70) say that,  “As digital technology determines students’ behaviour in everyday life, that technology can be used to enhance the dialogue between teacher and learner as new ways of engaging students in learning become available” . By using student’s preferred technologies I am aiming to engage students with the library, so that when I do do face to face teaching I am a recognisable presence, and students already have some recognition of how to do certain things, so I can concentrate on the critical discussion within the classroom.

  1. Conclusions

Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall (2013) encourage HE teachers to reflect on how their acquiring knowledge of good practice in a HE context impacts their teaching. In my experience, my developing my knowledge has positively impacted my teaching in that I am much more conscious of how the decisions I make in planning impact in the classroom. In reflecting on the diverse needs of my students, from the freedom to address problems on the spot required by adult learners (Cooke, 2010), to the need for one-to-one support of International students.

I am planning on using my reflections from this year, and my continued reviewing of the literature and analysis of student need at my work place, to develop a teaching offer for the next year of a curriculum of Critical Information Skills, using online activities, active learning games and class time teaching, in order to offer students the best chance of improving their information and academic literacies.

I will also work on improving my assessments within the classroom and work closer with tutors to measure the impact of my sessions on their formative work, as this would be the real measure of if my teaching practices were leading to learning gains. I will be looking at how other librarians achieve this through attending sharing practice sessions, and through my continuing professional development work. Through measuring my impact I aim to have good evidence for the promotion of critical information literacy sessions for all students, fully embedded into their programs, and greater relationships between the academy and the library in general.


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Cooke, N. A. (2010). Becoming an andragogical librarian: Using library instruction as a tool to combat library anxiety and empower adult learners. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 16(2), 208-227.

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Eshleman, J. J., & Obst, J. (2015). Librarians and Students: Making the Connections. In Swanson, T.A. (ed), Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think about Information. American Library Association. pp. 293-309

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Fry, H., Ketteridge, S., & Marshall, S. (2015). A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education: Enhancing academic practice (4th ed.). Abingdon: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315763088

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Jackson, N. (2005). Making higher education a more creative place. Journal for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching.

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2016 Sum Up

Obviously, this year has been atrocious for many many people. Apart from all the current horror and fear in the wider world, many people I love have had hard times of it. So I feel kind of guilty for doing a Positive Things post, reflecting on the things I’ve done over 2016, but as I did set myself some challenges last year, I felt it important to address them.

Once again, I want to reiterate that I am very very lucky. I have a whole heap of privilege attached to me that means my life is considerably easier and I have opportunities available to me that others don’t. 2016 was a mixed bag of a year, with some disappointments that I’ve learnt loads from, but also some rather large wins in the second half of the year as I’ve tried to stamp out who I am professionally and where I see myself going . As I cross the threshold from new professional to been-around-a-bit I’m still conscious that cpd is lifelong and I’m happy to have been given some rather fat challenges for 2017.

In terms of last year’s goals, well I went to Lilac, the Playful Learning Conference and the RLC gathering in Brighton. Next year I’d like to add an international conference to my agenda, and continue to try attend as many non-librarian events as possible to get out of my UK-centrist silo. Next year I’m also presenting at Lilac, as well as being on the committee, so I’m really pleased that I’ve got a good conference experience to look forward to.

Writing more stuff-well although I haven’t had loads published this year I have published a book review for the Journal of Information Literacy, and I have written an awful lot! Look out for some exciting writing projects that should hopefully come to fruition in 2017….

LISDIS was once again a successful day and I’m looking forward to hopefully being involved with it again in 2017. As our baby grows, we’ll no doubt be developing it so again, watch this space.

I wanted to get more involved in local CILIP groups, and although I have failed to see the CILIP Y&H lot this year (due to every (excellent sounding) event they’ve done been on a day I couldn’t do!) I have continued to be on the local ARLG committee and we’ve done some good local teaching and training events.

I have spent a lot of the year thinking about what sort of librarian I want to be. I am a teacher. I love it, it is something I love thinking and learning about. I love exploring ways of motivating people to try new things or cross thresholds, especially in regards to how to see and approach information as its such a fascinating and important topic. I also love organizing things! So next year my goals are as follows

  • Finish my PGCHE and be a better teacher, working more closely with colleagues to design materials and lesson plans that really inspire students to critically analyse their approaches to information seeking, consuming and creating.
  • Successfully take part in the Lilac conference as a committee member.
  • Continue with LISDIS, ARLG and other conferences. Continue interest in RLC.
  • Do Exciting Extra Curricula Projects

Less of them, a bit more focused, a bit more manageable! Hopefully!

Have a wonderful New Year, and here’s to a positive 2017.


Brownies London Trip Fundraising

My wonderful Brownies told me they wanted to go to London at our last big chat. Obviously this will be VERY expensive and money can be tight. In order to get the costs down as much as possible we’re trying to raise money…

The link to my justgiving is here

Any and all donations will be hugely gratefully recieved and you will be making a little girl’s wish come true!

Thank you!

Eagle Owl Jessbears-pic

LILAC, thoughts and reflections

I attended the Librarians Information Literacy Conference at University College Dublin, from Monday 21-Wednesday 23 March 2016. I presented, alongside my colleague Andrew Walsh, on the collaborative workshops on various information and academic skills we are currently conducting within my School at the University of Huddersfield.

These are my reflections from the conference; they are not an exhaustive list as many thoughts will have come and gone throughout the three (long) days. Throughout the conference I kept a video diary, which you can watch on my YouTube Channel, giving more of a ‘as and when’ flavour of my thoughts and feelings throughout the conference.

Day One

I attended four parallel sessions, presented at one, and one keynote.

My take-homes for this day were mostly playfulness-related. The keynote was a highlight as it got us running around, however owing to being a swot I volunteered myself to play, and was also sat near the front. Did any of the vibes I encountered below transmit themselves all the way to the top of the room?

The thing I’m going to nick –  using music videos in helping students think about key concepts and keywords/synonyms-adapted from the talk by Eileen Wright.

The thing I’m going to do more of – creating places to ‘fail safely’ is obviously a Biggie, and I think may help with library anxiety. Suggestions on a postcard please.

The thing I’m going to read up on – ethnographic studies of library use and how to think critically about spaces. The talk by the LIU librarians was my highlight of the day in terms of making me think about Future Practice.

Day Two

I attended two parallel sessions, one keynote, and the Lagadothon

The Lagadothon was a brilliant idea and I thought all the ideas were very well thought out and presented. Going to think of something that doesn’t just involve post-its and hope to put in to it for next year.

Today got me thinking about reflective practice, information privilege (and privilege in general) and teaching ‘for the moment’ as well as thinking about The Big Picture-am I responding to the needs of the class in front of me rather than to some big theoretical ideal in my head. The keynote, Char Booth, was excellent, mostly because of her exceptionally polished performance and presence in the room. On reflection much of what she said I already at least attempt to do….however…

The thing I’m going to nick – thinking about reading in terms of how many students see it- a chore. This comes from Pamela Kessinger’s session on reading critically and reading aloud and making observations as you do so on how that makes you feel/the process you are going through-may do a vid on this in the future.

The thing I’m going to do more of –  three question reflection, and trying to be more ‘Mindful’ (hate that word, soz, brings me out in hives) in the classroom.

The thing I’m going to read up on –as m’colleague handily checked, we have three copies of Char’s book in my library (love the wonders of modern day technology, can you imagine reserving a book written by the person you were watching speak, whilst they were speaking, seamlessly, using your phone, ten years ago?) so shall be getting that out for Summer Reading.

Day Three

I attended two parallels and one keynote and drank about a litre of Club Orange. The Temple Bar is Strong in This One.

I was, to be honest, a tired a grumpy mare for most of this day, which started with me getting all ranty about power and gender and its role in information source selection, and ended up with me sitting behind a stag do on the flight home.

The thing I’m going to nick – encouraging my (mostly women-School of Education, innit) learners to take intellectual risks – through teaching them easy and quick methods of evaluating sources so that they don’t worry so much about what they’re including. And getting in on this from Day One.

The thing I’m going to do more of –  assess my digital capabilities and actually use tools such as our VLE to their full extent-which I am very guilty of not doing.

The thing I’m going to read up on – aside from Word for Dummies, I’m going to have another look at the FASCINATING statistics from the content filtering in public libraries research Daniel Payne presented and look for some individual stories I could possibly flesh out and turn into some sort of book. Because I think that would be an interesting project. Anyone fancy joining in on that one for funsies, not for any higher intellectual purpose?

And those were my thoughts.

Other reflections

  • I am really really rubbish at visual note taking. This is something I was trying out as a result of seeing lots of folks talk about it on the Twitters, and watching some lovely vids. I also did a mindmapping workshop a few months ago that stressed the importance of visual clues to memory and got me all excited about colouring in and felt tip pens. However, my notes ended up looking like this…

…and I have no idea what any of this means…

  • I do, however, LOVE making video diaries. And seeing as YouTube is the second most popular learning tool after Google for many many students I am going to continue to do so.
  • Conferences are a zillion times better when you know other people! The first time I went to LILAC two years ago I MET a lot of lovely folk, however this time I felt so much more confident in approaching people as I already knew some and in fact traveled with colleagues and presented with them. Conferences are sociable events and I can understand how bloody difficult it must be for anyone with social anxiety-could there have been more support for folks like this? Not for me to answer as doesn’t apply to me, but maybe something to think about in conferences I help run in the future.

Here is the marvelous Woodsie and me in our corporate sponsored hats and beards. Conference dinner photos are best left elsewhere on the net, but we all had a lovely time…

me laura lilac

My YouTube Vids

Just realized I’ve not put this up on my blog!

I’ve been making little YouTube talk-to-camera vids for the last few months, which haven’t got any views and aren’t meant for any purpose but that I wanted to try it and enjoyed making them so thought I’d make more. They are about teaching/information skills etc etc. Here’s my referencing one to whet your whistle, more can be found on my YouTube Channel. It’s a lot of fun, talking to yourself, people should do more of it.



2016 Professional Development

Inspired by Woodsie’s blog on 2015/16 I’ve decided to reflect on the last year and make some goals for the new!

2015 was an excellent year all round for me. I started working in HE: I presented at a couple of conferences: I attended some other excellent conferences and some wonderful LIS events across the UK and Dublin (I love Dublin): I started reviewing books for CILIP Update, and I wrote for CILIP’s blog a couple of times (which was excellent and really painless-thanks to the web team for that!): I was on the organisation committee for LISDIS and that went very well indeed. I’m also counting Chartership as a Win because I’ve done everything for it, I just can’t afford to submit until the end of the month! So all in all I am Very Pleased. I am also Very Very Lucky and, as I said in my Chartership blog, Very Very Privileged. All these wins would not have been possible were not my personal circumstances as they are. So whilst I am Very Pleased I’m also feeling a bit Whelmed (you can in Europe).

Anyway, that aside, here are my Goals for the coming year.

  • Go to Moar Conferences. I bloody love conferences, both speaking at and attending them. I’m going to be doing both at LILAC (in Dublin! Joy of joys!) and would very much like to do more.
  • Write Moar Stuff. Actual Stuff. In Journals and The Like
  • Be on the committee for LISDIS 2016  (IT WILL HAPPEN)
  • Get more involved in local LIS groups, including RLC West Yorks (will happen) and CILIP Y&H
  • Continue to think about the sort of librarian/teacher/researcher I want to be and develop along these lines (wishy washy I know but it makes sense to me)

And on a personal note, I am going to continue my new found love of walking and am thinking of doing a Big Walk in the Summer-but watch this space for that!


Favourite Reads 2015

I’ve had to stop writing regular reviews as the demands of the day job have taken over, but I thought I’d go through my favourite books I’ve read this year.

Queen’s Gambit, Elizabeth Fremantle. This was one of World Book Night’s 2015 selection, and I’d never read it so thought I’d give it a go. A well-plotted and fast paced, if very dense, novel of the later life of Catherine Parr-from the courtship by and marriage to Henry VIII, to her final betrayal by Thomas Seymour. Loved it.

The Imaginary, AF Harrold. There’s a tribe in my office that love children’s books, and this terrifying illustrated anti-fairy tale about a girl’s imaginary friend who must save himself from the most horrifying perilous death was a clear favourite.

The Bees, Laline Paull. So skillfully done, the hive is a dystopia, but also chillingly real. Made me look at the bees in my garden in a completely different way.

The One Plus One, JoJo Moyes. I feel no shame for loving decent chick lit, and this ticked all my boxes. It is absurd, but very readable. I expect a film adaptation will be forthcoming. Think a very British version of Little Miss Sunshine.

The Cazalet Chronicles, Elizabeth Jane Howard. This series was my discovery of the year. The story, over five books (last one yet to read) of an upper middle class English family from the end of the 1930s to the 1950s. I also read Jane Howard’s memoirs, the first half of which made it clear that most of the Cazalet stories are taken from her own (amazing) life. Shame the second half was so dull.

The Last Kingdom, Bernard Cornwell. The TV series was a bit naff, but the first book of the saga of Uhtred the almost-Viking is a cracking bit of historical writing, and the battle scenes alone (must be read at breakneck speed) make it a thrilling read.

The Empress of Rome, Kate Quinn. I LOVED this series, and this, the third book, is the best. Sexed up, sumptuous and modern in it’s outlook, the characters are marvelous and the story so compelling I couldn’t put it down. Brilliant summer read.


Climb Every Mountain….

This isn’t a book review….  in fact this is probably the most non-bookish thing I’ve ever done.

I’m climbing a mountain for Nepal.

Now, this might not seem like big deal for some of you. But trust me, for me, this is big. I am not sporty, not outdoorsy, not even half as fit or health conscious as I should be. I vastly admire people who are, but I have always found exercise, whilst fun, to be hard work. My school reports for games always went along the lines of ‘Jess tries really really hard but unfortunately is just rubbish’.

So when my friend Hannah tried to get me to join her sponsored climb I initially was like ‘yeah, no’.

Hannah and me have been friends since she gave me my first makeover aged 12. We spent our teenager years together, being bad influences on each other, supporting each other through a lot of angst, exam pressure, boy heartache and cocktail making.

When travelling through Nepal she witnessed the devastation of the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck on 25th April 2015. Now she’s trying her hardest to raise money for the people who, with the monsoon season, desperately still need help.

And has guilted me into joining her.

Of course, this is also a jaunt. I’ve had an an absolutely wonderful summer of “training” walks around Yorkshire, including around Haworth (blogged by DrNeevil), Whernside and Emley. I’m doing Ilkley Moor tomorrow, and plan on also doing Great Shunner Fell as well as more local walks in Leeds- so really you’re not just sponsoring me for Ben Nevis, but for everywhere! Though Ben Nevis is the big one. I feel a bit fitter, more confident in knowing I CAN walk a long way, I CAN climb a mountain, and although I’m still pretty slow and pant a LOT I feel I’ve discovered a new hobby and also rediscovered my love for my county.

I climbed Whernside, highest mountain in Yorkshire.

I climbed Whernside, highest mountain in Yorkshire.

Please, help us reach our goal of raising money for the DEC, every time I look at see someone else believes in my ability to actually do this thing it makes me even more determined to do it!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me in my training (esp DrNeevil, who is a cracking walking buddy, and Ads who patiently talked me down the horribly steep downhill track of Whernside) and any sponsors are so incredibly welcome.

Jess xxx

The Sunrise


It’s hard to know what to write about this one because for the first 100 pages I was bored stiff with this book. Wooden writing, flat characters, clunky dialogue. But then I found myself finishing the last 100 pages in about an hour, reading at breakneck speed, because it is so clever what Hislop does here and how she uses tragedy to make a point about greed. I found myself really analysing this for days afterwards. However, a lot of people are going to disagree with this review (it has been slammed on Goodreads, for instance), but hear me out. It’s a massive bestseller anyway so what I’m going to say doesn’t make much difference-I just want to explore a theory.

I think The Sunrise is about fatal flaws, and how people are punished for them. Opening in the opulent early 70s, when the holiday industry was really getting in full swing, and luxury hotels were becoming more and more common, Cyprus, still recovering emotionally and materially from decades of civil war and revolution, is on the up. No one knows this more that hotel owner Savvas Papcosta, and his new right hand man Marcus Georgious. Supported by his ultra-glamorous wife Aphroditi. With the opening of the super-luxurious hotel The Sunrise, the Papcostas are one of the most successful and admired couples in Famagusta, the rapidly expanding resort on the East Coast.

The Papacostas live in their own bubble of wealth, extravagance and work, and are completely oblivious to the tensions outside the hotel. Turkish and Greek Cypriots have been at each other’s throats for decades, and for families like the Georgious, and their neighbours the Ozkans, who also have links to the hotel, every day is a test of courage and hope for a better future without violence.

When the violence erupts and Cyprus is invaded, the three families all find their own ways of dealing with the crisis. For some, such as wily and manipulative Marcus, it is an opportunity. For others, such as Aphroditi, it is a massive wake-up call.

Parts of this book are sickenenly violent, but it is told in the same matter-of-fact writing style throughout. It is like listening to a news report of the events, and more detached for being so. This allows us to see the circumstances of individual characters as lessons to be learned, rather than rolling about in tragedy overall. Marcus’ mother, for example, is such a naive and almost stupid woman in her affection for her clearly devious son, instead of feeling sorry for her circumstances we can look at a human failing in the context of a tragedy. Her characters are flawed, real people, not martyrs of horrifying events. By looking objectively at the events of Famagusta we see it for what it is; a booming city that was torn apart because it was focussed on growth and gain rather than the politics of the nation.

Get through this book, it IS worth it, but it isn’t a beach read or a sad romantic tale of loss and hope. This is the story of am event, and how people responded to it, and should be read as such.

At The Waters Edge


I read Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel Water for Elephants whilst on holiday earlier this year and found it perfect poolside reading; easy enough to read at an angle on a sun lounger without having to concentrate too much, yet exciting and gripping enough to keep my interest.

This book, unfortunately, is none of these things.

When Maddie and her obviously awful husband Ellis are banished from their Philadelphia society home after being scandelously intoxicated at the 1942 New Years Eve Ball, Ellis and his friend and enabler Hank decide to up sticks and move to Scotland, find the Loch Ness Monster, and gain Ellis’ father’s respect, plus international fame. Maddie is dragged unwillingly along and it soon turns out that Maddie has been dragged along on the whims of others for must of her life.

Finding herself pretty much abandoned in Scotland by an increasingly abusive and intoxicated husband, she turns to the staff of the hotel they are staying in, and makes friends with the local women. With the war having raged in Europe for three years there is tension between the locals who have suffered losses, the Canadian soldiers encamped nearby, and Ellis and Hank, who are both conveniently declared medically unfit for duty.

The problem this book has it that is is about seven stories at once; the story of a marriage falling apart; the story of how rich people avoid war and live in selfish weird bubbles; the story of the Loch Ness Monster, and of that part of Scotland; the story of how women coped during war time; a ghost story, and then, at the end, for no apparent reason and with no build up whatsoever, a love story. I just found myself lost and confused and not relating with any of the characters.

Maddie’s story is sad, and really effecting and well written, but she changes so much as a character over the course of the book (the last 80 pages especially are just such a massive volte face). It is just unbelievable that a woman with that level of emotional torment and tragedy could be ‘fixed’ by doing a bit of housework, learning to curl her own hair, and actually talking to an actual woman, in six weeks. Ellis is horrible, but the potential for tension is never really explored, and the ‘love interest’ part of the book is so unconvincing as to actually be farcical-I was going to rate the book higher that I did for the quality of writing but the love story just put me off completely.

I’ll read more of Gruen’s work, because she is a good writer, but this is the sort of book that could have been so much BETTER than it was with a few plot edits and a better grasp on the narrative.