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Keywords:

  • competencies;
  • health science;
  • librarianship;
  • professional accreditation;
  • professional development

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Skills acquisition/acquiring competence
  6. How trainees develop competence using LPP
  7. Moving towards a framework
  8. Putting the framework into practice
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

This feature considers the legitimate peripheral participation model in developing professional competencies in health librarianship. It is described how this model was used in the development of a framework for mapping and recognising the competencies gained by new health librarians at the Royal Free Hospital Medical Library.

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Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Skills acquisition/acquiring competence
  6. How trainees develop competence using LPP
  7. Moving towards a framework
  8. Putting the framework into practice
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

Librarians working within the health sector are increasingly acquiring a ‘specialist’ status, developing expertise in a number of non-traditional arenas. They are acting as expert instructors to clinicians in: critical appraisal of journal articles; study methodology; literature searching and grading evidence, despite the majority of librarians having no formal teaching qualification or clinical knowledge. At the same time, increasing numbers of librarians, particularly in the health sector, are choosing not to become members of the UK professional body, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), and consequently choosing not to undergo the process of chartership.1–3 What does this mean for the development and maintenance of professional competence?4

In this feature, we will discuss our ideas for mapping and recognising the competencies that health librarians gain on the job. We will start with some background to this idea, followed by some of the theory behind legitimate peripheral participation and then moving on to discuss the development of a competency framework that we believe could be useful to help shape the learning of new health librarians, both at the Royal Free Hospital Medical Library and elsewhere.

Background

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Skills acquisition/acquiring competence
  6. How trainees develop competence using LPP
  7. Moving towards a framework
  8. Putting the framework into practice
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

As many British librarians do, we entered the profession by following an approved Master’s course in a CILIP-accredited information subject, but having taken up our first professional post, we quickly realised that we had not learned a great deal of the required skills or competencies during the course. Instead, we ended up learning ‘on the job’ with supervisors and colleagues teaching us what we needed as we needed it. There was no existing framework on which to map the development of our competence within health librarianship, and training of new librarians seemed to take place based on the consensus of what was required. Within such a system how can we be sure that we attain the right competencies to do our job well?

So what are the required competencies of a health librarian? Should there be a specialised scheme which certifies competence in health librarians? A number of studies have been carried out looking at the particular training needs of health librarians, and whether completion of a library qualification (an accredited postgraduate course) can equip health librarians with the necessary skills to be a competent practitioner. To assess this, it is of course first necessary to define the competencies that make a health librarian (health librarian, defined here as a librarian who both teaches the skills to utilise health-related information resources and supports clinical practice by carrying out literature searches). Robinson et al.5 draw on work by Peacock6 and other authors to propose a list of ‘proposed competences for …healthcare librarians providing information literacy instruction to learners’. These include broad concepts such as content and technical knowledge, teaching skills delivery(p. 47).

To broaden this model out beyond the ‘information literacy’ aspect, health librarians also need to develop knowledge of the particular needs of a ‘health professional’ audience, and the ability to speak with authority to that audience.

Skills acquisition/acquiring competence

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Skills acquisition/acquiring competence
  6. How trainees develop competence using LPP
  7. Moving towards a framework
  8. Putting the framework into practice
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

While there are existing models in place which outline the competencies and skills required by health librarians, there is still no consensus about how health librarians should go about acquiring these skills. A survey7 of 16 health librarians concluded that:

‘Library school curricula do not appear to meet the demands of medical library posts…The conclusions suggest that library schools need to update their programmes to include teaching skills, advanced search skills, project management skills, research methods, with more practical exercises’.(p. 167)

The conclusions reached in this study are that the gap in health librarian competencies should be met by altering the library qualification curriculum. However, there is a growing body of research that suggests that learning on the job is by far the best way of accruing skills needed in the ‘real world’. This idea of needing to experience something to fully learn it appears in a study by Felstead et al.,8 who characterise two theories of professional or job-related learning:

‘learning as a product with a visible, identifiable outcome, often accompanied by certification… or as a process in which learners improve their work performance by carrying out daily activities’(p. 362).

Health librarianship currently seems to include both of these; first, the health librarian obtains their professional qualification, and then they begin their first post and have to learn the specialist competencies by participating in the everyday activities of the job. How can we ensure that these health librarians are able to adequately learn the demands of the post without being overwhelmed by the number of new things they have to learn?

One method is that of ensuring that their training follows legitimate peripheral participation model (LPP). LPP was proposed by Lave and Wenger9 as a reconception of learning:

‘They propose that learning is a process of participation in communities of practice, participation that is at first legitimately peripheral but that increases gradually in engagement and complexity’ (back cover).

It is about learning how to do something, not by reading about it or studying it, but by actually doing it. As Hanks points out in the foreword to Lave and Wenger’s seminal book9(p. 14), ‘The individual learner is not gaining a discrete body of abstract knowledge which (s)/he will then transport and reapply in later contexts. Instead, (s)/he acquires the skills to perform by actually engaging in the process’.

It is our view that, in the current absence of any formal competence-based training courses, many health librarians are learning how to perform their job through LPP. It is likely that this process takes place by default in health libraries, but LPP does give it a theoretical framework. At the Royal Free Hospital Medical Library, part of UCL Library Services (hereafter referred to as RFHML), we have been training our new staff for some time using an informal LPP model.

The learning that the trainee health librarian undergoes can be defined as movement towards becoming a full member of a health librarian ‘community of practice’,9 and of developing competence in performing as a professional health librarian, by meeting a range of competencies.

Librarians who join RFHML in relevant posts are generally new from library school – they have achieved certification but have no ‘on the job’ experience. For the purposes of this article, they are referred to as ‘trainees’ although they are qualified librarians on the basis of possessing a qualification in an accredited subject. The trainees follow a formal induction programme to begin with and then continue with a less formalised introduction to the ‘community of practice of health librarianship’. They are encouraged to begin to learn about the wider community by signing up to key mailing lists. In time, they may graduate to sending their own emails to the lists, asking either simple process-based questions or beginning to engage in debate. Other ways, they slowly become involved in the community include following the CILIP route and chartering, attending study days and meeting others in the field. As Lave and Wenger9 state(p. 95), ‘To begin with, newcomers’ legitimate peripherality provides them with more than an ‘observational’ lookout post; it crucially involves participation as a way of learning – of both absorbing and being absorbed in the “culture of practice”…apprentices gradually assemble a general idea of what constitutes the practice of the community’.

From a practice perspective, to develop competence, trainees are introduced slowly to key concepts and ideas, advancing from the easier concepts to the more difficult ones. Trainees at the RFHML use LPP to help them move from the level of novice through to becoming an expert practitioner with an ‘identity’ of knowledgeable health librarian.

How trainees develop competence using LPP

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Skills acquisition/acquiring competence
  6. How trainees develop competence using LPP
  7. Moving towards a framework
  8. Putting the framework into practice
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

Literature searching

Trainees are taught the basics of literature searching and practice with example searches. The next level in their competence is to teach clinicians in simple sessions. They are given a protocol to follow to ensure they cover everything. This is a low-risk situation – if higher-risk requests are given (e.g. a request relating to direct patient care or for a systematic review), they are instructed to pass these on to a senior colleague. In time, they get enough practice to begin to do their own literature searches, following a protocol. Occasionally, quality checks are made of these. When they in turn are able to teach other staff, they are moving towards mastery. It is important for trainees to begin to experience ‘real life’ situations in lower-risk environments, so that it can minimise the risk of failure.9

Delivery of information skills training

Trainees begin by learning about the simplest resources themselves (being taught in sessions by colleagues). At first, they conduct information skill training for small groups, incorporating only the easier concepts and resources, and only teach from a pre-written outline. In time, depending on their breadth of understanding of other issues (i.e. clinical terminology), they may begin to teach larger groups and to design their own training sessions. These are checked at first, but in time, they practice independently. The most complicated training session – critical appraisal – comes towards the end of their training and marks their moving towards full participation. More knowledge is required to teach and understand the concepts of critical appraisal effectively, so this milestone is not undertaken until trainees are fully prepared.

Clinical terminology, knowledge of audience and speaking with authority

These aspects of the health librarian post are the most difficult to learn and generally are developed through LPP. Trainees witness experienced colleagues (‘masters’ in the parlance of Lave and Wenger9) in conversation with clinicians and learn how best to deal with common situations and questions (modelling best practice). It can often be daunting to use clinical terminology without clinical training, but this knowledge builds up over time. Learning by example is the best approach here. A further skill is that of having the confidence to speak with authority on a subject, particularly when explaining to clinicians why specific resources are more effective than others. The trainee moving from LPP to full participation will practice these skills in lower-risk situations at first.

Moving towards a framework

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Skills acquisition/acquiring competence
  6. How trainees develop competence using LPP
  7. Moving towards a framework
  8. Putting the framework into practice
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

We had been using LPP in an informal way at the RFHML for some time, but the idea of more formally tracking the progression of professional development skills was prompted by one of the authors working towards CILIP chartership.10 We realised how neatly this could be developed into a framework for benchmarking health library staff competencies as they are developed through LPP.

Along with a colleague, Angela Young, we devised a ‘Health Library Staff Competency Framework’,11 built on the initial framework of LPP, to help trainee staff and their mentors map the development of their knowledge and skills as they progress through training. The framework includes three domains: literature searching, training and teaching, and knowledge of health terminology and research methodology. These domains draw on the competencies listed by Robinson et al.,5 but are expanded to include concrete examples of what the trainee needs to learn (e.g. MeSH headings). Each domain includes a number of different levels that staff can work through either on their own or with their supervisor to assess their current skill level and identify areas of further development. The aim is to move towards ‘mastery’ within health librarianship, with full competence in the areas described.

Putting the framework into practice

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Skills acquisition/acquiring competence
  6. How trainees develop competence using LPP
  7. Moving towards a framework
  8. Putting the framework into practice
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

We are still ascertaining the best method of implementing the framework in our own work environment, and it is likely that a working model will be adapted as it becomes utilised. For the framework to be rolled out to different institutions, it would need some validation, perhaps being piloted among other libraries first, so that it could be altered and improved according to feedback. The practicalities of applying the framework would necessarily vary from workplace to workplace. For example, it was designed with a clear trainee–supervisor relationship in mind, and therefore, two staff members would be needed. As most health libraries have a relatively small number of staff, this may be possible only infrequently. To be generalizable, the framework must be flexible enough to be applicable in a number of settings, yet consistent in that the core competencies are standardised and agreed.

Having a common method for assessing and tracking competence could help foster collaboration between health libraries, establish a benchmarking standard and even become a valuable tool for employers, complementing chartered status as an indication of knowledge and commitment.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Skills acquisition/acquiring competence
  6. How trainees develop competence using LPP
  7. Moving towards a framework
  8. Putting the framework into practice
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

In this feature, we have examined the notion that a newly qualified librarian needs to further develop their skills and competence when entering professional health librarianship. We have defined some of the competences required by health librarians, drawing on research carried out by others in the field. We have theorised that a trainee health librarian can develop competence using an ‘LPP’ model, where they are gently exposed to ways of working and have the chance to learn and experiment before carrying out work activities themselves. Finally, we have used the LPP model to develop a written framework which can be used to guide the development of the trainee. The next steps would be to implement the model further and validate it, perhaps by piloting it at other libraries.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background
  5. Skills acquisition/acquiring competence
  6. How trainees develop competence using LPP
  7. Moving towards a framework
  8. Putting the framework into practice
  9. Conclusion
  10. References
  • 1
    Huckle, M. & McKee, B. Modern professionalism – a mix of knowledge, skills and ethics. Library and Information Update 2009, April, 1921.
  • 2
    MacDonald, C. HLG Professional Development Needs Project: Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations. Cheshire: Tangram Associates, 2010.
  • 3
    Health Executive Advisory Group. Future Proofing the Profession. London: Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, 2004.
  • 4
    Eraut, M. Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence. London: Falmer Press, 1994.
  • 5
    Robinson, L., Hilger-Ellis, J., Osborne, L., Rowlands, J., Smith, J. M. & Weist, A. Healthcare librarians and learner support: a review of competences and methods. Health Information and Libraries Journal, 2005, 22(Suppl. 2), 4250.
  • 6
    Peacock, J. Teaching skills for teaching librarians: postcards from the edge of the educational paradigm. Australian Academic and Research Libraries, 2001, 1, 111.
  • 7
    Petrinic, T. & Urquhart, C. The education and training needs of health librarians – the generalist versus specialist dilemma. Health Information and Libraries Journal, 2007, 24, 167176.
  • 8
    Felstead, A., Fuller, A., Unwin, L., Ashton, D., Butler, P. & Lee, T. Surveying the scene: learning metaphors, survey design and the workplace context. Journal of Education and Work, 2005, 18, 359383.
  • 9
    Lave, J. & Wenger, E. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • 10
    Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. Introduction to Chartership. Accessible at: http://www.cilip.org.uk/jobs-careers/qualifications/cilip-qualifications/chartership/Pages/chartershipintro.aspx (accessed 20th April 2011).
  • 11
    Thomas, Z., Young, A. & Clarke, S. Library Staff Competency Framework. Hampstead: Royal Free Hospital Medical Library, 2010 [available from the authors on request].

For details on how to contribute to this feature please contact:

Hannah Spring Learning and Teaching in Action Feature Editor Senior Lecturer, Research and Evidence Based Practice Support Faculty of Health and Life Sciences York St John University Lord Mayor's Walk York YO31 7EX Tel: 01904 876813 E-mail: h.spring@yorksj.ac.uk