Reflective practice

snail perched on a full glass of water, drinking, reflected in the water. Her shell is slightly translucent and you can see some of her circulatory system through it.
Photo. A snail drinks from a glass. One eye stalk is reflected on the water’s still surface. The sun behind the snail illuminates the snail’s shell, revealing her circulatory system. Reflection requires that I bring my heart to what matters.

Reflection is an attitude which makes the difference between 20 years of experience or only 1 year of experience repeated 20 times.

Gillie Bolton, 2009.

Is reflective practice for everyone in the library?

I am a committed reflective practitioner. Empirical literature suggests I might be on the right track. I present a very brief literature review, followed by my reflections on the how and why of my reflective practices.

Maria Grant published the first systematic literature review of reflections on library activities in 2007. Grant described a category of reflection: analytical that was beneficial for the reflectors. An analytical reflection (a) focuses on a single event (b) after the event has occurred and (c) relates learning gleaned from the event to future practice.

More recently, Judith Greenhill and Barbara Sen (2014) conducted a survey of 424 library workers in the UK. Greenhill and Sen’s study confirmed that reflective practice has many personal, professional, and institutional benefits. These benefits included ‘learning from significant events’ and ‘improved planning of future actions’ (p.142). However identified barriers in the personal (lack of skill or experience) and institutional (lack of time and training) realms prevented library workers from making the most of a regular reflective practice. Jolene Miller (2020) repeated the study on 106 US health librarians and found a similar pattern of benefits and barriers. Greenhill, Sen, and Miller recommend professional development opportunities on reflective practices be provided by libraries or professional organisations, and time allocated for reflection.

Further, recent empirical literature demonstrates the value of reflective practice across a number of domains. Close to my heart, reflective practice and library instruction is well documented. Mary Delaney and colleagues describe ‘reflective inquiry’ (2020); Steven Milewski and Jeanine Williamson refine a reflective template to suit library instruction (2019); and Sarah Wagner and Erika Mann reflect on student evaluations and develop reflective prompts (2021). Further examples can be found to support the benefits of reflective practice for other library services and practices.

The literature speaks of many reflective practices, my personal preference is to write my reflections.

Writing: a method of [self] inquiry

found poem in Laurel Richardson’s (2000) Writing: a method of inquiry.

Writing is also a way of "knowing" –
a method of discovery 
and analysis. 

In the spirit of affectionate irreverence
I consider writing as a method of inquiry, 
a way of finding out about yourself –
and your topic. 

writing is not just a mopping-up activity, 
 a mode of "telling." 

Writing in different ways, 
we discover new aspects of our topic – 
and our relationship to it.

Form and content are inseparable. 

"Reword" the world, 
erase the computer screen, 
check the thesaurus, 
move a paragraph, 
again, and again!

Writing as a method of inquiry
honours and encourages the trying –
nurtures the writer.

Reflective writing & me

I read Laurel Richardson’s words while struggling with what had become a dry thesis: HDR students writing for publication. Richardson’s words were a welcome contrast to what I had known and supported for years: Writing as a performance of expertise, writing as research quantum, and writing as a justification for a place at whatever table a discipline might have to share. I nearly cried with relief and joy at Richardson’s humanising description of scholarship. In my capacity as senior research project officer, I took Richardson’s words to the HDR students I worked with, applying liberally to those seeking to reignite their passion for writing their topic, their project, or their discipline. And the only thing I ever insisted on with my research supervisor – and boss of five years – was to include Richardson’s ideas in my Masters thesis.

Inspired by Richardson’s words, I started to use what I now call ‘reflective writing’ to clarify and embody something that I have learned. The learning might be something from a course, a book, or a video on a topic. However, it usually comes from an experience, a time when things did not go as planned, or when an action created unintended consequences. A strong emotional response – mine or someone else’s – to something seemingly benign is also a potential site for me to reflect and learn.

How my reflective writing works

Once I have distinguished a topic to reflect on, my reflective writing maps well to Grants (2007) ‘analytical’ reflection. My writing occurs as phases: messy, repeated, overlapping, and often informing or re-informing each other. In these phases, I write to:

  • Describe the experience accurately, respectfully, and in as little detail as needed. I aim to discover the heart of the matter.
  • Consider what this learning might mean for me, my clients, my colleagues, and my librarianship. I am searching for whom the learning matters – and why?
  • Create an action to make the most of the learning. I might change the way I deliver a service, add to an existing conversation, or share what I have learned with others.

This might happen quickly. However, my reflective writing often means writing and rewriting over days and weeks, thinking deeply, sometimes applying specific reflective tools and practices to a learning experience. Yes, like my Dad’s baking, reflective writing is a slow process, however once completed, the results will ideally be enjoyed and applied easily. I have found this form of reflection to be worth the effort. To encourage myself, and others wanting to develop some reflective practices, I have divided reflective writing into ‘private’ and ‘public’ and listed some benefits of each, I have also provided links to examples, and to some of the tools I use to support my processes.

Why do I engage in private reflective writing?

Private reflective writing allows me to complete some initial processing on a topic, and it is often enough to do the work, take the learning and keep this work private. Private writing gives me the benefits of reflection, and allows me to:

  • Protect the identities of people (often myself) who I feel should have known better, done better, and achieved a better outcome.
  • Process stigmatised emotions: shame, guilt, envy, fear, and anger. Thom Bond’s Exercise allows me to acknowledge the emotion, remove any blame, and increase compassion for all involved when I am ‘feeling some feelings.’
  • Critically reflect on my complicity with institutional power. This helps me to develop a considered response to an issue in line with my values. Katrina Fyers and Sallie Greenwood provide an example of such a reflection using the What, so what, now what model.  John Dabell’s Borton’s model of reflection further explicate the questions used in Fyers and Greenwood’s example.

Private writing may be reworked into public writing.

Why do I engage in public reflective writing?

My public writing – including this blog post – allows me to

  • Bring myself to librarianship. Librarianship becomes a creative act. My experiences, expectations, beliefs, skills, education, aptitudes, vulnerabilities and (many of) my failings can all be included.
  • Create joy. I love writing, and feel happy and satisfied during the writing process, and when seeing a finished post.
  • Replicate an executive function. Writing and rewriting over time helps me develop a deep understanding of a topic and to remember. When it becomes unclear again, I have a record that is contextualised, personalised, and meaningful to me. It is easy to read a blog post and catch myself up.
  • Embody theory and wisdom found elsewhere – often by writing a found poem.
  • Explore what I know, what sense I am making of a topic and plot out where I think I need to head.
  • Participate in a conversation while further developing my ideas. Unclear writing usually indicates underdeveloped thinking and will be revealed in the process of revision, or via feedback from peers.
  • Share my expertise with others, to be helpful, to make a positive difference. I received a much-appreciated thank you all the way from Canada for What I know about. I have also shared links to relevant posts during conference presentations, in response to requests for further details about a specific project.
  • Demonstrate my experience, interest, engagement, investment, and contribution to resolving an issue of wider interest in a format and time that suits me and my schedule.


Bolton, Gillie. 2009. Write to learn: Reflective practice writing. InnoVait. 2(12), 752-754.

Bond, Thom. n.d. The exercise: Shifting towards compassion.

Borton, Terry. 1970. Reach, touch and teach. McGraw-Hill.

Dabell, John. 2018. Borton’s model of reflection.

Delaney, Mary, Ann Cleary, Philip Cohen and Brendan Devlin. 2020. Library staff learning to support learners learning: Reflections from a two-year professional development project, New Review of Academic Librarianship, 26:1, 56-78

Grant, Maria. 2007. The role of reflection in the library and information sector: a systematic review. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 24(3), 155-166.

Greenall, Judith and Barbara Sen. 2014. Reflective practice in the library and information sector. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 48(2), 137-150.

Fyers, Katrina and Sallie Greenwood. 2016. Cultural safety: developing self-awareness through reflective practice

Milewski, Steven and Jeanine Williamson. 2019. Refining a reflective practice template using a survey of citation management instructors. Public Services Quarterly 14(3), 197-213.

Miller, Jolene. 2020. Reflective practice and health sciences librarians: engagement, benefits, and barriers. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 108(1), 17-28.

Richardson, Laurel. 2001. Getting personal: Writing-stories. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 14(1), 33-38.

Richardson, Laurel. 2000. Writing: A method of inquiry. In Y. S. Lincon  & N. K. Denzin (Eds.), Turning points in qualitative research: Tying knots in a handkerchief (pp. 923-948). AltaMira.

Wagner, Sarah, Erika Mann and Ann Marshall. 2021. Toward a thoughtful assessment practice: Using reflection to guide library instruction assessment. The Reference Librarian 62(1), 23-33.

Photo credit

Irina_kukuts. Snail. PIxabay license.

Growing connection and building belonging: Online library support during COVID-19

This is the story of how my Learning Advisor colleague, Kate Derrington and I designed and then adapted our Online Study Support program for the COVID-19 context.  Kate wrote this piece with me, and I originally presented it at the Council of Australian University Librarians Webinar: Innovative library responses to COVID-19. (Kate had lost her voice). This version has a few additions to the Looking forward section as things continue to evolve.

I will provide links to a recording and information about the Webinar program at the end of the post.

COVID-19 restrictions: Impact on our students & how we responded

We know that as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, students have experienced uncertainty and disruption caused by the unexpected – and sometimes unwanted – move to online study. In addition, significant changes in their personal circumstances, have left many students under-prepared and under-resourced for online study.  

Our response was to redevelop an existing program of evidence-based online learning support we craftily called: Online Study Support. The original program was built upon Sally Kift’s transition pedagogy, being intentional, student centred (just-in-time, just-for-me) support, extending beyond orientation.  Responding to transition pedagogy, Kate and I offered weekly tutorials through the Semester, and we provided flexible content adapted to the needs of attending students.  We also demystified and encouraged support-seeking behaviours by referring students to other support services to build student confidence in their new study environment.  

In addition, Kate and I used a holistic engagement model, inclusive of social engagement, founded on the work of Petrea Redmond and Cathy Stone. We wanted to increase a sense of belonging and perhaps help students persist with their studies. To foster community and belonging, Kate and I introduced ourselves each week, and practised being authentic. We listened and responded with empathy.

So, how did the Online Study Support program work in S1 2020?

In Semester 1 2020, Kate and I invited Cristy Bartlett and Samanthi Suraweera, our Learning Advisor and Liaison Librarian team for Engineering, to join us and offer a ‘repeat’ weekly 1 hour zoom tutorial. Repeat is not at all the right word. The tutorials shared a weekly focus on a specific skill pertinent to that time of Semester, and an emphasis on connection. However, Cristy and Samanthi brought unique gifts to the program, including discipline and content expertise, and their own warm and interactive presentation style that feels like a chat by the fire – lovely!

As previously, all tutorials provided some prepared content or a demonstration, with the majority of time given to discussion and questions on this skill, or any other area of student concern.  Fourteen discrete topics were offered over the course of the Semester.

The overall redevelopment of the original Online Study Support program for the COVID-19 context provided

  • More times for students to access the tutorials each week
  • Access to another Learning Advisor and Liaison Librarian team, and to their valuable perspectives on content and delivery 
  • Additional content, pertinent to the COVID-19 context, including ‘online and take-home exams’ 
  • Provision of the tutorials into the exam period (we had previously finished by that time of Semester) 


We evaluated the Online Study Support program through the Semester to assess whether the provision of ongoing support and attention to the many elements of engagement were appropriate for, and evident to our students.

How did the students respond?

Online Study Support sessions are generally lively and peppered with student questions and discussions. Discussions might be with the facilitators, and/or between students. The image below was created to provide a sense of this by mapping a very small selection of chat comments and survey responses to aspects of transition and engagement.


Crucial to the COVID-19 environment has been the ability to reach students. To date, we have all shared our Online Study Support program through our personal and professional connections. It is available via the library website, and shared by our wonderful Client Support team – on chat, phone, and via email. Online Study Support is promoted on Course and Discipline Moodle sites. The program is also featured in various Student Relationship Officer communications with students. Promotion by these means has helped boost our numbers from a modest 1-3 attending at the very  beginning of Semester to a peak of 83 students across the two sessions in the final week.

Looking forward 

In Semester 2 2020 we will

  • Diversify our content to appeal to and meet the needs of a broader range of students 
  • Increase interactivity with large groups by using Zoom Webinar
  • Use higher-level promotional strategies – facilitated by our managers, Lyndelle Gunton and Debi Howarth
  • Invite a third advisor and librarian discipline team to increase opportunities for students to participate and for the facilitating teams to access more strengths in terms of expertise and perspectives
  • Invite the Maths Learning Advisors to the program, to offer their unique and valuable content, and their expertise and perspectives

I am very excited for Semester 2 2020.

The CAUL Webinar

You can watch the entire Webinar on YouTube. I added a direct link to Kate and my presentation in the program below.


The program was eclectic and represented much of the enormous world of university libraries. A common theme was caring for our communities: for our clients, for colleagues and staff, and for our wider communities during this disruptive and uncertain time.

  • ‘Enhanced support to travel restricted students based in China’, Pamela Good, University of South Australia
  • ‘Insights from UWA Library’s COVID19 client experience data’, Alissa Sputore, University of Western Australia
  • ‘Online Workshops Made Easy (with a lot of hard work)’, Catherine Hay, Griffith University
  • ‘Growing connection and building belonging: Online library support during COVID-19’, Rowena McGregor & Kate Derrington, USQ
  • ‘Empathy and story-telling: Supporting staff during the pandemic’, Clare Thorpe, University of Southern Queensland
  • ‘Going virtual at UON Libraries’, Michael Paver, University of Newcastle
  • ‘Community Legends’, Amy Dale, University of Adelaide
  • ‘Face shields for Healthcare workers in Regional Toowoomba’, Steph Piper, University of Southern Queensland
  • ‘The perfect storm: seizing COVID-created opportunities’, Carlie Nekrasov & Kayleen Wardell, Southern Cross University


Questions and comments are always welcome, please use the comment function.

What I know about being human and a librarian and teaching online

So, a lot of librarians are looking at teaching online, maybe for the first time, or maybe as a larger part of their role than usual. And it can all be a bit intimidating, especially if you don’t consider yourself much of a teacher, or teaching technology is unfamiliar territory. I hope I can reassure you with these tenish tips that help me enjoy online teaching (seriously, I jump out of bed excited about it) while contributing skills and many other valuable things to my students.

First of all, you are creating a learning community. It does not matter that your students are all over the planet, or studying different disciplines, or more or less advanced in technical skills than you, or that you are only together for 30 minutes – set the tone of this community. I usually aim for welcoming, collaborative, and practical. You can create whatever works for you and your students.

Be yourself. Students online are often relieved and delighted to meet a real, live human being on the other side of their screen.

Planning is essential. Have a clear idea of your learning objectives and how you intend to work with your students to get them from where they are to where they want to be. I like to state these objectives up front and check in with students to make sure that is what they signed up for. If not, I can adjust and carry on.

Be prepared to go off-script and respond to the real needs of the real students that turn up to your class. An example: I never do canned searches any more, even when I know the assignment topic. Asking students to think of keywords and trying a few databases encourages interaction and provides a realistic search experience. This is how students learn to do the secret library stuff and do special, tricky things, like looking for journals in other databases, and tweaking Google Scholar. And they get to see how creative and messy and fun (and time-consuming) creating a search string can be.

Welcome your students, introduce yourself, and let them know how the session will go and how they can interact with you. This may include explaining how to turn their microphones on and off or use chat. Acknowledge that some students may be at work, or on the train, or some other situation where using their microphone is impractical. Let the students know they can communicate however works for them.

Tell the students whether you are recording the session or not. If not, you will point them to further help on the library website of course! I don’t record my classes as we have plenty of great resources online that are better quality than a recorded tutorial and I don’t want to create any fears around asking questions.

It is fine not to be perfect. Because, even though of course you test and practice with the technology, sometimes things fall apart. If things fall apart a little, you have an opportunity to model how to be graceful under pressure. You may just say something like, ‘Well, the databases can cope with English spelling and American spelling but they really don’t like it when you combine them – watch out for that!’ If things fall apart a lot, apologise and work out a way to make up for it. Try something like: ‘Sorry everyone, it was my intention to give you an excellent session on finding information today and have you all feeling confident that you can find everything you need – but it looks like this tech issue is not going to allow that. Would you like to…reconvene at the same time tomorrow, email me for a recorded PowerPoint..’, (or whatever you can offer in your context.)

Include a teaching partner. Your partner can manage chat by answering questions or by redirecting chat questions to you verbally. They can also listen out for something you may have missed, or glossed over, or for spoonerisms. I make plenty of spoonerisms and don’t even notice them. A partner can clarify for students. A well-chosen partner will also add their expertise, wit, warmth, and/or wisdom to the session and this is often exactly what your students wanted to hear.

Ask the students for help, especially when you need it. Many students like to help you, they do not expect you to be a technical genius. A student was pleased to teach me today that Alt +Tab allows you to choose whichever screen you want to pop on top – how have I lived without that? If you have a big crowd and no partner to help with chat, tell the students that and ask them to un-mute and tell you if there is a question in chat as you don’t want to miss anyone. Just like in a face-to-face class, you can even ask someone directly, by name.

Evaluate your teaching. If you can set up a student survey, do so.  Keep it simple. It is an opportunity for students to let you know what worked for them and what did not. Don’t be afraid, students who have gotten to know the real human being that you are will tend to be very appreciative. It is way harder to get the constructive criticism you need to grow your teacher-self than to collect praise. If you have a teaching partner, ask them how they think you went. Let them know what you are aiming for with your session – make it measurable if possible. Did everyone have a good time – who knows? Did I provide ample opportunities for students to ask questions? Better.

Share with your colleagues. I read and listen and soak up research and anecdotes and whatever information I can find that will help me be a better teacher. Your experiences, good, bad, or ugly are valuable to our community.

Finally – just remember you have something very useful and valuable to share with your students. Yes, library skills and knowledge, but also more than that. According to all the research I have read on teaching online, students are very likely also turning up for connection, inclusion, social engagement, call it what you like. I imagine that many students at the moment, unexpectedly thrown into online learning – and whatever other chaos COVID-19 is causing – may appreciate these elements even more. This connection is what you, a real human being, generously taking a risk and bringing your best to this online teaching gig will provide. You’ve got this!

A picture of me, teaching online with a virtual background of the Northern Lights masking the fact my home office is also a spare room.
Me, teaching online via zoom with a groovy virtual background.

HeaLing: Health Librarian meeting July 2019

On the travel form required to get official approval to attend this meeting of Health Librarians across South East Queensland, I said something like … share new and emerging practices and resources to improve my performance … and this is what we do in a library meeting. But improve my performance? Getting together with other librarians does so much more than that. Two personal ‘themes’ that occurred to me are:

Creating and strengthening relationships

I met some librarians and got to know them through the professional discussions facilitated by the group and later over lunch. I caught up with old friends from 4 university and 1 hospital library. There were serious (and passionate) discussions and plenty of laughs. Together, we reinvigorated our network and created a social space in which I feel comfortable to ask for help or advice and confident to respond to the requests of others.

Creating myself as ‘librarian’

In describing my role, in answering people’s questions about ways to approach information literacy training for large cohorts, in responding to their approaches, I co-create myself as a librarian in the presence of others. Now, I don’t suffer from ‘imposter syndrome,’ but get a little ticked off that I can’t join the national librarian association as I am a librarian by trade, not qualification. (Hurumph!) I felt very satisfied with being in conversation with other librarians.

And there were some new and emerging practices and resources too:

  • A matrix for support of systematic reviews showing the time and resources provided by a librarian as part of ‘core business’ and an estimate of additional hours and resources provided by a librarian/author.
  • University of Queensland’s Digital literacy tutorials (Open Access).
  • One University Librarian is trying to get rid of all mandatory textbooks – to be replaced with library subscriptions to good quality eBooks and other resources plus Open Education Resources (I’d name the librarian but not sure if this is her official position on the topic!)
  • We all had a whinge about abuse of the term ‘systematic review.’ Some of us would like to outlaw non-Cochrane-compliant use, but I think that battle is well and truly lost!

There was an omission I found surprising as well — we talked about online teaching, and about making and providing a variety of learning objects but we did not call them learning objects (that I heard) and no-one mentioned ‘pedagogy’ or ‘frameworks for learning,’ or similar language (again — that I heard). Maybe next time.

And so tomorrow I return to work feeling confident and renewed and happy — straight into a PubMed and APA referencing demonstration for a mixed cohort of face-to-face and online students. It will be a blast 🙂

my Granny Vik – for her birthday.

the kiss and stick of cold dark clay

  – I scrub the earth from my hands.

the prick of her pin at the back of my kitchen drawer

  – I push it to the dark.

the lowing of the black cow

 – out in the farthest field,

the smell of gardenias.

– Her things

keep finding me,

my old Granny Vik, she was

soft to touch, she had

an iron grip and

a sharp tongue.

So many stories.

When she was a girl, growing up in a Siberian gulag, a man came to the door on Christmas Eve. He wanted some bread and a place out of the cold. But there was no bread and no room for a strange man in the hut of four little children and their widowed mother.

The next day, Granny opened the door, and there he was, sitting on the step.


Merry Christmas!

When we were kids she worked two jobs so she could fly us to Sydney in our holidays.

She took us swimming to the Bronte Beach.

She took us to the Luna Park and Taronga zoo.

We caught ferries from the Circular Key and visited the Opera House and walked all the way across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

It was bloody tiring, but we managed to keep up.

She wore a silky scarf over her dark hair and beautiful dark red lipstick and a camel overcoat, stockings and fawn high heels. Once someone asked her for her autograph because they thought she was Greta Garbo.


My Poppy was in the Czech Resistance. He would wake up screaming in the night. The ceiling above his chair was stained orange-brown from his cigarettes. He often smelled of whiskey. He was warm and witty and bitter. Once he got drunk after work and thought he was Jesus and gave away his pay packet. Sometimes he would not come home and Granny would get in a taxi and drive around till she found him crumpled under a tree somewhere, beat up, wallet gone.

Her favourite sayings:

  1. Marriage is a dark forest.
  2. All men are unfaithful. Some with women. Others with drink or horses.

Her own father died on the way to join his wife and children in Siberia. He was trying to sell their farm. He fell off his horse in blizzard. He died in the snow.

She really loved my Poppy; she always spoke fondly of him and his terrible suffering.

When I was 20 and single and pregnant and scared and everyone was ashamed of me my mum made me ring her and tell her and Granny Vik laughed a gentle laugh and said, Ah it is so. Well if anyone will do this, you will. You have this baby and go back to the university and study and have a good life. That is it.

And somehow, it was.

She always grew gardenias. In her backyard in Sydney and later in Brisbane. And little ones in pots on the balcony of her South Bank apartment. She loved gardenia talcum powder and gardenia soap.

When she worked as a forced labourer in a Bavarian factory for Mr Hitler, the girls slept in straw together. With no sanitation things often smelled a bit ordinary.

The day after Granny’s funeral, my mother’s gardenias flowered for the first time.

Those two often argued, but now Mum has a little shrine in her sewing room. Two photos of Granny, and a little vase of flowers on a doily, arranged on their own little table.

I’m thinking that it’s the most wog thing my mother has ever done.

systematic literature review FAIL!

What is a systematic literature review and why did I want to do one?

A systematic literature review is an attempt to locate, evaluate, and review all the scholarly literature that may answer a specific research question. As part of that effort, it is important to plan and test your search strategies before commencing and to keep a record of all the steps taken, should you or another researcher wish to test or replicate the review.
I wanted to do my own systematic literature review for two reasons: to better understand the processes of the review, and to gain some insight into a topic that intrigues me. My research question was: How do academic librarians understand and demonstrate caring in the online environment?

Why did it fail?

The short answer is that my enthusiasm and confidence plus a little desperation to make it work led me to proceed without the checks and balances I would usually make. But these are weasel words…

But why did it fail?

There are many reasons the review failed, here are the ones I have identified:

  1. An element of my topic just does not lend itself to systematic search techniques. That is the element of ‘caring.’ Many, many of the search terms I used are homographs: they are spelled the same as words with a different meaning. For example, I included the word affect in my search string, thinking of the sense of how one expresses emotion. Of course, affect also means to change the state of something (affect/effect) and is a very common word.
  2. The word caring itself is problematic. I included the term caring to describe the transpersonal element of sharing emotional states. But it turns out librarians are out there caring for books, collections, libraries, communities, careers, and a multitude of other things unrelated to my topic.
  3. There are too many ‘known unknowns’ about my topic that also affect (😊) a systematic search. I have heard of care theory and nonviolent communication and logotherapy but I’m guessing there would be many other theories and perspectives that librarians are working from that I don’t know.
  4. I compromised my search and wasted a lot of time by not using sufficient limiters. I should have limited some aspects of my search to title/abstract/keywords but this led to very few results and so I searched the full text of all articles: BAD Librarian, Rowena! Very bad!!
  5. It turns out that my topic was too narrow. Twenty-two articles, most of which mentioned caring in passing does not provide enough substance for a systematic literature review.
  6. I did not set aside enough time. Professor Catherine Pickering, expert on systematic literature reviews suggests 3 months, full time is a reasonable amount of time. I had 4 weeks, part-time but thought I knew better. I didn’t. This is a painstaking and time-consuming business.
  7. Impacting on the timeline issue, technology has not been my friend. EndNote imported about 2/3rds of my articles with full text, leaving me to search for 90 odd articles myself. A temporary glitch between Google Scholar and my university library slowed me down until I subscribed to Kopernio (a button you add to your browser that automatically searches for the full text of articles). But I still had to cut and paste all those article titles one by one to search them… and about a third of those needed to be found by locating the journal title in the library catalogue and navigating to the article via volume and issue details. What a colossal pain in the you-know-what.

A load of pain – What did I gain?

Despite not achieving what I set out to do, I gained a lot from this process in terms of better understanding the systematic literature review process, and information on my topic.

What do I now know about systematic literature reviews?

I believe having experienced the excitement, confusion, frustration, the dawning realisation that it’s not going to work but pushing ahead anyway, the disappointment, the resignation of it all, I am now in a much better place to support my research clients – a good thing as I in the process of creating a resource guide to be completed early 2019. My advice would still be that setting yourself up to succeed seems to be the most important thing. Test the searches. Test them properly to make sure what you need is in there. Make sure that an SLR is a suitable research method for your topic before wasting time. But I can now be a little more emphatic about that!
My technical skills have been sharpened too. I can whizz around parts of EndNote that I had only peeped at before. I got a little practice with using Excel to make some charts as well (where the articles were published etc.) This will all come in handy.

What do I now know about academic librarians and caring?

That’s an interesting thing. I strongly believe that librarians, even academic ones do care for their clients, do feel for them but it seems no one is talking much about this in the scholarly literature. Does it seem too trivial to write about? Do we fear not looking professional? Is it just that no one has started the conversation yet? I am more interested in this question than I was before…

Jean Watson’s caring science and online library instruction #2

This is the second post describing how my Learning Advisor colleague, Bronwen Dickson and I used the ‘caring science’ pedagogy to provide online library instruction to nursing students.  I’m going to talk about how we provided opportunities for our students to express caring – for themselves, their student colleagues and for Bronwen and me. If you want to know how the workshops came to be and how Bronwen and I used four principles for online educators as described by the ‘cybercaring’ framework to guide the whole experience, you can find that in part #1.

Cybercaring provides learners many opportunities to demonstrate caring (See Sitzman & Watson, 2016). Invitations to care can be given via explicit instruction, by creating activities activities and resources that prompt caring behaviours, and by modelling the desired behaviours. Following is Sitzman and Watson’s (2016) list of the seven opportunities for students to demonstrate caring (pp. 68-9) and how each unfolded before, during and after the workshops. I have included pertinent student feedback as a reminder to myself and to indicate the kinds of things other facilitators of online learning might like to consider.

consistently demonstrate full presence through the creation of high-quality work and communications

Much of the workshop took place as small group (2-3 students) activities. Students worked together to solve APA referencing problems and then reported their results to the larger class. Bronwen and I visited the groups during the activities and observed the students working together to complete the work, communicating verbally and via chat to navigate resources and find answers. Production of ‘quality work’ may be a stretch for our circumstance, but we got the sense that students were giving their best attempt. Student feedback indicated that some time pressure focussed the groups however, too little time was discouraging. In response to our observations and student feedback we reduced the number of activities in later classes to allow more time for each activity.

communicate clearly, kindly and respectfully

Communication was vital for the success of the workshops. Therefore, I provided suggestions on how to introduce yourself and communicate with the group, and Bronwen and I modelled this when we introduced ourselves and responded to each other’s introduction. Students were always kind and respectful, however clarity of communication was improved when Bronwen and I explained how to use zoom effectively, including checking-in on group members without a microphone and using the chat function to include these participants. Again, we did this in response to student feedback.

reach out for help early

Bronwen and I repeatedly encouraged students to ask questions to their groups and to the larger workshop. We always responded with ‘great question…’ or similar validation.  We found that students did ask questions during the workshop and we both received emailed questions from time to time after the workshops. Again, more questions were asked when Bronwen and I responded to student feedback to wait a little longer for people to ask a question. Students let us know that it can be tricky to find the microphone button while trying to compose a question – or hold one in your head – especially for our students learning English as an additional language.

respond to messages promptly

Most students did respond to the invitation to participate in the workshop promptly and let me know which date would suit their schedule. It is not clear whether this was due to my carefully worded request, or to the workshop being a requirement for these students to progress in their course.

share personal and professional experiences to enhance learning for all

Bronwen and I invited students to share with their small group their confusion about APA referencing and/or any tips that they thought might help others. The sharing shaped the direction of the workshops, allowing Bronwen and I to spend more time on topics students found difficult and demonstrate how to use the resources effectively. Students told us that this sharing was very enjoyable – it provided relief from any belief that they were on their own in this situation. Perhaps this helped them learn.

As an aside, many students wanted more time to share. One external student even told us that this was the first time she felt really connected to other students in the course.  I think there is an invitation to us as educators here, to embed opportunities for students to connect with each other and with each other’s experiences.

pursue learning with commitment & enthusiasm, evidenced by full engagement

In the workshops students were invited to work together to solve APA problems using authoritative APA tools. Bronwen and I were able to check in with the groups to assist if required. The groups we observed did work together, sometimes with a self-nominated leader, sometimes with all participants working and chatting together at once. As mentioned earlier, students in the initial workshop told us that they would like more time to complete group activities, and so we removed one activity and modified the remaining ones to allow more time.

acknowledge shared humanity of instructor & students

In our introduction and through the workshop, Bronwen and I shared pitfalls we had experienced. We wanted to create a collaborative, problem solving approach rather than an automatic ‘run to the expert’ approach. Students may have expected to be taught by APA experts, but instead they got two human beings. Students seemed to respond well to this expression of our humanity, by listening and responding and by volunteering stories of their own. As mentioned above, the sharing seemed to create a feeling of connection to each other.

reflection on what we learned from providing students opportunities to express caring

I was initially a little concerned that using this approach – and especially the sharing -would backfire. It was not how I had ever experienced or run a library class before. I thought the students might be impatient and just want to get the class done. However, this was not the case at all. Students appreciated the sharing, they called the class inclusivecollaborative and fun.

The other interesting thing for me was the quality of the feedback the students provided, even though we used a standard feedback form. I would usually expect appreciation: ‘I liked it.’ ‘The librarian is nice.’ Or not: ‘Too long!’ ‘boring’ But these students went further, their feedback was useful and Bronwen and I were able to improve the workshop just by following the student advice. Students also told us what they liked about the class, what made it worthwhile. Students appreciated that they could use their new skills and they enjoyed the affective elements informed by caring science.

some conclusions and things I want to do in future

I want to keep using caring science in my teaching and other interactions with students and colleagues. I am currently considering how I can incorporate caring science within the online learning objects (tutorials, videos, PowerPoint slides…) I create. This is an interesting thing to consider!

I am also exploring how the library creates a sense of belonging and connection with the 70% of our students who study externally. What else are we doing that works? What else and how could we do more?

I’d be very happy to hear anyone’s thoughts on this, or any aspects of this post 🙂


Sitzman, K., & Watson, J. (2016). Watson’s caring in the digital world: A guide for caring when interacting, teaching, and learning in cyberspace. New York, NY: Springer.