Regression to the mean

You connect facts and experiences, you create pattern in the world around you and in the reality none of them are correlated. In few words this is the explanation of the regression to the mean (in a day-to-day life).

Did I ever mention that I love cognitive illusions? Pure love!

One of the things I love the most of being a medical librarian is that I am gaining an incredible insight into medicine: how science works, the importance of facts and evidence and how we are “repeatedly bombarded with sciencey-sounding claims” (Goldacre, 2008). The best part is that the more I learn about the health-business the more I see things in a different way.

I am reading Bad Science and my attention is captured by a new concept: the regression to the mean. I am not interested in the statistical aspect (more info here) but how this concept has silently blinded me in many situations.

As Goldacre explains, if I have a cold I will try things to get better. I would stay at home, drink water, eat a chicken soup and take an ibuprofen = my body is at the very worst and I try remedies to cure my illness. In the best scenario I will be up and running the following day. Now, it is because of the ibuprofen or because of the delicate chicken soup prepared by my husband or because my body simply needs a rest.

In my mind I think it’s because all of three, however Goldacre argues that because it worked that last time, now my brain has created a cognitive illusion that demands me to take an ibuprofen, ask my hubby to prepare a chicken soup and have a rest.

Now on I will look at a common cold in a different way. I know for sure that having a rest is a good idea, not sure about the ibuprofen at this point. Using my rational part of the brain I know that the chicken soup homemade by my hubby is not miraculous, but it works! Shall we do a trial?

We connect facts and we rely on this cognitive illusion. Natural history plays an important factor. My point is that rather that blindly believing in magic and quick solutions I will accept the natural cycle of the illness (but I still demand my homemade chicken soup!).



Goldacre, B. (2008). Bad Science. London: HarperCollins.

Clever Gimmick for library induction

During the “How to deliver a memorable library induction” course (see my posts Tips for library induction, my presentation “Find, access and use the Royal Marsden”) I observed my colleagues inductions and presentations.

Some used some very vivid images in order to engage people (see dual-theory concept).

  • A mountain to represent the fact that the library will help you “climbing” through your information need.


  • A maze to represent the complexity of a literature search process and how the library can help guiding through it.


  • A picture of the Parthenon to represent the OpenAthens account (genius!)


What I really liked was the use of a game during the library induction. Basically the librarian had 3 minutes to explain why students should use the library, which facilities are available and she was also able to describe the library team. That sounds pretty boring, however she introduced a clever game element: she asked us to identify 3 lies in her presentation.

This is extremely powerful because we were forced to actively listening to what she was saying. For example one of the lie was the fact the one member of the library team is happy to write dissertations for students. Obviously that was not right but she was able to explain how the library can actually support students during the dissertation time. How clever!

Another librarian showed a set of cards that can be used to interact with people during inductions. These cards have on a side some questions and on the other side a classic library card catalogue image. I really liked the detail!

Some used lovely images of their libraries to introduce services and spaces. In this the audience was able to “visit” the library and imagine to have a tour of it.

Such good ideas! I will use them for sure!

Testing a presentation: Find Use Access the Royal Marsden Manual

As part of the second day of the “How to deliver a memorable library induction” course I had to structure, organise and present a short presentation in front of a group of health librarians.

I decided to work around one of our library e-resource: The Royal Marsden Manual of Nursing Procedures.

First I started developing the content and then I moved to visual impact.

Audience – New qualified nurses joining the Trust

Time – 5 minutes

Three key messages –how to find, access and use the resource (FAU). I simply modified adapted the FRBR conceptual model (never forget your cataloguing principles!).

Tell a story – I used a real story. In one of our recent CQC inspection a nurse has been asked to provide the source of information for a specific procedure: how to remove peripherally inserted central catheters. He replied that the Royal Marsden was the source of information and the inspect asked the nurse to access it. The nurse was able to retrieve the piece of information online. This example needs to engage the audience. What if you had to show an inspector how to retrieve procedures. For this reason the audience needs to know how to find, access and correctly use the resource.

Design – I used PowerPoint and found some nice graphics on FreePik; I modified them using Photoshop.

Clever Gimmick – keep the presentation short; signposting the audience through the presentation (e.g. you are 4 clicks away from the information you need); use positive body language (smile, take pause, stress key words etc).

So this my short presentation:


(Presentation_Royal Marsden PDF version)


  • Colleagues were engaged and they said that my personality had shown through the presentation.
  • I should state that any other information about the resource (=facts) are available in a booklet.
  • People liked the three key concepts, the flow and the compelling story of the CQC inspection.
  • One colleague said that she is going to create a guide for each e-resource using the Find – Access and Use approach. Cool!

Yes, I can be scared about the idea of talking in front of a lot of people. Yes, English is not my first language. However I have to admit that I really enjoy presenting information in front of people, let’s say it is a natural talent.

How to deliver a memorable library induction

I attended a two-day course that explored the golden principles and the dynamics of any presentation or induction of library services.

During the first day we examined and investigated the basics of a good presentation. On the last day we had to create and deliver a presentation in front of our group in order to get feedback and comments.

Library inductions have usually common characteristics: librarians have a maximum of 10 minutes space; they need to compress all the services/resources in that given time; they need to impress a very mixed audience (senior staff, new qualified staff, clinical staff, non-clinical staff etc); they need to attract new users.

That is a big task!

However what I learnt from this course is that a good library induction should follow these principles:

  • Be benefit-led (as opposed to service-led). It’s useless to list endless e-resources without showing real benefit. We need to demonstrate the true value of a service.
  • Less is more. Just forget fully text slides and endless bullet points. Keep it simple: one or two concepts on each slide.
  • Stick to 3 key concepts. It so tempting to compress EVERY SINGLE SERVICE that the library can offer on a presentation, but this structure simply does not work. We need to select a maximum of 3 concepts. If we focus on these people will remember them.
  • Use images / graphics. Visual aids can be a very powerful tool to enhance the impact of your induction. Have you ever heard about the ‘dual coding’ theory? If we synchronise verbal associations and visual imagery you become really persuasive.


    Video / Audio – Photo CC by Florian Pitcher

  • Tell a story! I love this point. Instead of listing facts we should attract people with a story, in this way  we can bring our message alive for our audience. I discovered there are 8 classic storytelling techniques.
    • Do you have to state facts? Put them in a booklet!
    • Use quotations or feedback your library received. People will listen to them.
  • Connect with the audience. Induction day is a very busy and fast-pace time. Try to think how people feel and what they expect. They are now working with new people, in a new place, facing new responsibilities. Show respect for these emotions and offer your support. A simple but persuasive message could relief this stressing time: the library is here for you.

These are great concepts, stick with them and you will win any audience. Need inspirations? Watch some Teds talks.

On the second day I presented my presentation in front of my group: How to use the Royal Marsden Manual.

Demographic Time Bomb / Knowledge

Just back from a meeting where I faced for the first time the notion of “demographic time bomb” in relation to knowledge.

We are living in an era of vast social change and this notion should be taken into consideration in the preparation of any long-term project: political, economical and social. This concept involves several factors: the fact that population is ageing, unemployment, low birth-rate etc.

But have you ever thought about this concept in relation with knowledge? I started working in my twenties and I will probably retire in my seventies. That means that I have accumulated knowledge and expertise for 50 years. If I suddenly retire what will happen with my knowledge? Is anyone going to store it and re-use it, or it will simply die with me.

Let’s think about the health care sector: imagine if a consultant retires after a 40 years service without leaving notes or documents. Can you see the big damage that the organisation is going to face? That means that a big bulk of knowledge and expertise will be lost forever, and that the new generation will take years to try re-build it.

CIPD stated: the UK face serious skills shortages by 2035 unless employers change their approach to workforce planning.It said that something needs to be done to ensure that the hole left by retiring workers can be adequately filled.

knowledge-sharingSo, as information specialist how can I prevent this? As a librarian how am I supposed to preserve and store information/expertise and knowledge? I think that the real challenge here is starting a new culture where people actually share and store information. Rather than imposed this attitude should be vocational. We  desperately need a  policy and a place where to share, collect and archive knowledge, otherwise that might be lost due forever.

This is why nowadays terms like “knowledge retention”, “knowledge management (KM)” and “community of practice (CoP)” are so recurrent in the information sector.

This is a big mind-shift that requires a clear vision, including structure and process, organizational culture, and information technology. Let’s get ready.

Info skills training – My checklist

As part of my role (assistant librarian in the healthcare public sector) I organise and deliver 1-2-1 and group information skills training. During the last year I developed and tested this checklist. Preparation is the main secret of a good info skills training.

I have to admit that people like my “teaching” style and thanks to this checklist I can time-manage my self and make sure that the information skill training is tailored around the user’s needs.

Let me give you a real example: a new staff member, a Diabetes Dietitian, just joined the Trust and requested an info skills training with me. On the form she specified that she is investigating how to manage weight during pregnancy and in post-natal period for South-Asian women. She also intended to carry a literature review on this topic.

In this case the user had a clear question in mind therefore I simply tailored the training according to her needs. Before the training I carried a brief search on Medline, selected books on the literature review process and printed some poster about the difference between a literature review / systematic review. In this way the user felt that I prepared the training in advanced (true!) and trusted my advice. During the training I performed a search on a database and she was amazed by the fact that by using a proper strategy I was able to retrieve high-quality articles for her research.

This is the feedback I received: “The training was very comprehensive. The trainer explained each stage of the process to aid my understanding. It didn’t just concentrate on the practical side of completing the literature search but included the wider skills needed for reviewing the articles and writing up”

Who me? I would say well done to myself. If I only think that a year ago I was completely new to concepts like literature search, PICO, hierarchy of evidence, systematic review, meta-analysis, RCT etc…welcome to the health information sector!

So this is my information skills training checklist:

Before the info skills training

  1. Preliminary questions in person or via phone:
    • Are they conducting a Literature Review or a Systematic Review?
    • Is this for personal/professional development or a requirement for a project within the trust?
    • What level are they working towards? E.g. Is this for vocational/academic use or will it be peer-reviewed/published?

One hour before the session

  1. Conduct a brief literature search on the topic using the databases available and retrieve a good article.
  2. Print: the article to be used as example; Systematic Review/Literature Review Comparison Chart; PICO Form.
  3. Create a note document that will be used during the training. This should include:
    • The main question
    • The stages of the literature review (Refine question; PICO; Databases available; Access full-text available)
    • References
  4. Bring relevant books along to the session that the reader may borrow (e.g. books on conducting a literature review).
  5. Make sure the PC is working and it is connected on internet

During the session

  1. Conduct a “reference interview” using questioning, listening, paraphrasing skills so you are sure you understand their needs.
  2. Edit or add on the note document any particular topic/service the user would like to explore more

After the session

  1. Ask user to fill the evaluation form
  2. Save any relevant documents created/found during the sessions in the library shared drive
  3. Email the user any relevant documentation (including the note document used during the session).
  4. Work-out any questions the user asked.

What do you think? I find it extremely useful – Happy to share it.


Stuart Chalmers – Checklist

Facebook, No Thank you

Today I celebrate three years without a personal Facebook profile.

Regrets? None.To be honest I do not even remember how it felt having a profile and being addicted to it.

It was funny how I made the decision.One day I simply said to myself:

  1. Do I really need to spend hours viewing pics/status about people that I do not even know? Simple answer: no.
  2. Do I really need to spend hours trying to show people how amazing is my life? Simple answer: no.
  3. Do I really need to spend hours believing that people around me are having such an amazing life or terrible one and constantly complaining about it? Simple answer: no.

Negative sides:
Friends/People annoyed by the fact that I don’t have a Facebook account. So sorry (lying).
People do not remember my birthday or my surname – That’s so interesting. Our device/social network platform IS our external hard drive.

Positive sides:
Free time – I can use that to study, cook or cuddle my cat…or husband.
No pressure to share everything.
When I meet friends in UK or Italy I have actually something to share and say.
I have a private and real (happy and simple) life.  I don’t have to show my OMG amazing life.
I am not involved in stupid and useless catfight on the web.
I am in touch with real friends in an old and simple fashion way.
I am not obsessed with other’s life. No stress.
I just remember few important birthdays.
Sorry Zuckerberg, no more money with my personal data.

So less virtual happiness – more real one. Peace!

If you have time please visit this Urban Art Project called WEB 0.0 – it’s a sort of Internet “in real life”


Facebook Web 0.0 Copyright –

Second study school

AberystwythMy attendance at the second study school is finished.

It was nice being sorrounded by people in my same situations. Time costraints, study/work balance, lack of confidence are really common problems.

What do I take back home? I feel re-energised and I have more confidence. There is still a study year in front of me but I am determined to finish this course.

Notes? I’ve noticed that compared to my colleagues I have matured experience in specific activities, like cataloguing and classification. I was one of few people in the classroom knowing how to catalogue using AACR2 or assign a class mark using Dewey. This made me think about how it is important to experience some activities rather than just study them.

In my pragmatic view a certification is important but I really think that gaining experience is certainly more important.

I found people that are simply postponing any attempt to progress in their career AFTER the degree.  It’s like delegating a special power to a degree title. Is it the truth? I am not sure… But this is my vision. Maybe it’s because I met so many talented professionals that are genuinely good in their professions regardless their study titles.

Anyway, happy to have spent time in Averystwyth, the weather was fabolous!

Working in a hospital: a spiritual shade

Hospital corridorIn my current work I confront myself everyday with the hospital environment. In order to get in to the library I pass in front of A&E dept and cross a long corridor that cuts through different depts like emaetology, anaesthesia and urology.

Everyday I meet people waiting to be called. One day I even assisted to a collapse in a corridor (luckily a nurse was just behind this person). I think this is the price of working IN this sector. I won’t define it naively sad but this is its essence.

Despite the fact that I do not relate directly to patients, I feel the presence of illness, hopes and pains. I guess this is the reason why I define “spiritual” working in a hospital.

Working here helped me to realise how I am lucky to be healthy and how life is volatile and unpredictible. So, less complaints and enjoy your time.

I found a way

Turning badgesSitting on the grass at Llanbadarn campus I reflect on my last year not only academically but also professionally. Just few things happened: I moved from Surrey to West yorkshire, I got a new job, adopted a cat and I am now buying my first house. Gladly I managed to find time to complete the first year assignments.

Last September I was working in a cozy academic library environment. I had few responsabilities and my academic journey was at the very begininning (again). In my mind I was framing a career in the information retrieval sector, let’s say about cataloguing and acquisition.

One year later, I still hope to work in an art sector but I am actually working in the health library sector as Services Librarian. I am now in charge of a small team and I regularly serve clinicians helping them retrieving evidences. Terms like evidence-based approach, critical appraisal, literature search and quantitative research are now part of my everyday vocabulary.

How did I end up working in a health library? I have been simply offered and accepted a job. My first three months have been really taxing, not only because I had to recalibrate my focus on the health sector but at the same time I had to consider the fact that there was a team relying on my decisions. I had to assimilate quite quickly new procedures, familiarise with new medical databases and specific information needs. On the top of that I had to adapt to a new LSM, I moved in fact from SirsiDinyx to Heritage.

Do I regret it? Absolotely no. In just few months I drastically expanded my knowledge and I can now compare two similar but different environments: the academic library and the healthcare one.

New unlocked experiences/skills: managing a team (!!!), teaching to 1:1 or to groups, depth knowledge of health databases, liason with consultants, budgeting (!!!), managing subscriptions, cataloguing using the Wessex scheme, planning social media content, editing current awareness bulletins and sorting my mail box.

I feel being on a very steep learning curve and I’ve never expected working in a hospital. What’s next?