Speaking about RIVAL at #CILIPS21

I was delighted to speak about the RIVAL project Royal Society of Edinburgh funded Research Impact Value and Library and Information Science (RIVAL) project, at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals Scotland 2021 conference (#CILIPS21) on Tuesday 8 June. This, and Hazel’s presentation at SCURL, would be a fitting coda to all the work I, Hazel and others have put into this project, and the successes it has generated. NB it’s a coda, not a finis.

My script for this presentation is below the cut, my slides are in this PDF and the video of my presentation is on CILIP’s public GoogleDrive. So I’ll just note the main points here.

  • Creating collaborative networks of academics and practitioners is possible and worthwhile
  • We have a model for doing so, based on our previous work and experience, e.g. DREaM, RiLIES, digiCC workshops. This model is likely to work in other situations where there are research-practice gaps.
  • We had to adapt to COVID-19/lockdown, by learning from other online events and conferences.
  • RIVAL survived and succeeded – it created the network we wanted to build, and helped close the LIS research-practice gap in Scotland.
  • RIVAL created many resources that are free to use – all on lisrivalcom.

Here’s that model:

  • Networking events are free to attend
  • The first meeting is a ‘taster’.
  • After that, members should be strongly encouraged to come to all subsequent meetings, to maximise network- and relationship-building.
  • Networking events have enticing, relevant content
  • Networking events have activities to break ice and build relationships
  • Communications and info-sharing between events
  • Members are a mix of academics and practitioners
  • Board reflects membership, experience and diversity
  • Members have some control over content and outputs
  • Aim to create tangible outputs and resources

And thank you to the audience at #CILIPS21 for all the questions and interaction afterwards!


RIVAL provided many lessons to us as organisers and participants during its lifetime (summer 2019 to spring 2020). But it wasn’t done yet. Its final lesson was an expression of Sod’s law – what can go wrong will go wrong– even if you have checked and rechecked the technology!

I’d practiced my presentation several times. (Thanks CSI colleagues, Hazel, Rachel, Sean and Elly!) Of course this included checking that the slides would play, and I could be heard clearly via my iPad, both via Teams (Napier’s preferred online channel) and Zoom (used at #CILIPS21).

But when it was time to do this publicly, Zoom/Powerpoint/my iPad conspired to not show the slides. So

  • frantic grab for my MacBook Air
  • wait for it to verify Outlook, Zoom and PowerPoint
  • get my iPad to stop giving feedback (just quitting Zoom didn’t work. Nor did taking it into another room far from the Mac. Switching it off completely did)
  • get Zoom on the Mac to screenshare the PowerPoint.

Thank you to my session chair for keeping me calm! Fortunately, CILIPS had sensibly arranged for presenters to come online 10 minutes before they were due to start. So this vindicates a lesson on my slides: accept there are risks. It also provides another one: in online events, allow time for technology to do its worst!


Slide 1

  • It’s been a great conference. Thank you indeed for inviting me.
  • I’m a researcher in Edinburgh Napier University’s Centre for Social Informatics, interested in practical aspects of information literacy, for example in local democracy and chronic diseases. But most of my recent work has been on a project called RIVAL. That’s Research, Impact, Value And Library and information science.

Slide 2

  • I’ll give you the key messages first, like an abstract in an academic paper. But don’t worry, this isn’t an academic presentation.
    • Also, you may be able to see that there are 33 slides. But don’t worry – many of them are just pauses for breath before moving on to the next section.
  • Then I’ll talk about RIVAL’s aims.
  • Then ‘what was RIVAL?’ – what we actually did.
  • Then about how we adapted to lockdown conditions.
  • Then about what we achieved.
  • Finally, I’ll briefly sum up what this all means.

Slide 3

  • So, on to the key messages

Slide 4

  • The first main lesson from RIVAL is that building collaborative networks is possible and worthwhile.
    • But it does take some work, and some funding.
  • The second main lesson is we have a model for building such networks.

Slide 5

  • So, on to the aims

Slide 6

  • The whole point of RIVAL was to build ‘a collaborative network of Scotland-based Library and Information Science researchers and practising library and information professionals interested in maximising the impact and value of library and information science research’.
  • That’s a mouthful, so let’s unpack some of it.
  • But before that, I want to thank the Royal Society of Edinburgh for funding the project.

Slide 7

  • Firstly, we wanted the network to be collaborative, so the members themselves would build the network.
  • The researchers are the academics at Napier, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Robert Gordon and Strathclyde Universities who teach and research library and information science.
  • The professionals – that’s people like you!

Slide 8

  • The network was designed to help close the research-practice gap. People have been writing about this gap since the 1930s! As we said in our funding bid, there are needs for
    • ‘LIS researchers to produce accessible research outputs that are applicable in practice’
    • ‘LIS practitioners to engage with LIS research’.

Slide 9

  • We knew there was demand for work to close this gap from several things, and that we were well placed to do it:
  • A pilot RIVAL event in summer 2018, by Prof Hazel Hall (leader of my research unit) and me.
  • Hazel’s previous projects. ‘Developing Research Excellence and Methods’ (pronounced ‘DREaM’) created a network of LIS researchers. ‘Research in Librarianship – Impact Evaluation Study’ (pronounced ‘realise’) explored how librarianship research affects library practice.
  • I was research fellow on an evaluation of DREaM. My ‘digiCCs project’ (supervised by Peter Cruickshank) was about co-creating and sharing of knowledge about community council online presences.

Slide 10

  • So, what was RIVAL. That is, what did we actually do?

Slide 11

  • At heart, 32 people from library practice and LIS academia formed a network. You can see who they are at lisrival.com.
  • On that website, if you click a member’s name, you can read a little about them. So…
    • <CLICK> Here’s Sean McNamara.
    • <CLICK> Here’s Martina McChrystal

Slide 12

  • There were 4 networking events, planned for July and November 2019, and March and July 2020.
    • I’ll return to the 2020 events later on.
  • Events 1 to 3 were planned in in advance, with keynotes and other presentations on ‘research into practice’
    • For example, David Stewart, then CILIP president, gave a keynote on how evidence influences practice.
    • In RIP presentations, an academic and a librarian spoke on how they had mutually enhanced each other’s work.
  • There were ice-breakers, and some ‘unconferencing’ (where network members could spontaneously speak on their interests).
  • There was planning for event 4. This was because event 4 would be whatever network members wanted. If they’d simply wanted a nice day out, we’d have done that.
    • As we’ll see later, they chose otherwise.
  • Lastly, there was much communication between events, using our website at lisrival.com, email and quite a lot of Tweeting.

Slide 13

  • To make sure we stayed on track, we recruited a board of librarians from the national library, a university, public libraries and academia. We aimed for gender- and experience-balances.
  • We made event 1 a ‘taster’, so there would be no problems if people found RIVAL wasn’t for them. But for events 2, 3 and 4 we asked people to commit to coming to all of them, to maximise network and relationship-building.
  • Importantly, thanks to the RSE funding, we made the events free to attend by covering travel and accommodation costs.
  • We shared all the outputs we could, to build a repository of useful things available to everyone.

Slide 14

  • For organising event 4, we preselected groups for working on what event 4 would be.
  • Members came up with 4 tangible outputs: a further RIVAL event (November 2021); an article in Information Professional; a proposal for funding for a further project (training of library staff specifically in research and evaluation skills); a full evaluation of RIVAL.
  • Members freely chose which output-team they would join. 4 members volunteered to co-ordinate the teams. Teams were facilitated by Napier staff.
  • This evaluation was based around 2 surveys of members: one was about social network analysis; the other was about RIVAL’s outcomes. I’ll present evidence from these surveys later.


  • By the end of 2019, everything seemed fine. Events 1 and 2 had worked well. We had a model of how to build a collaborative network, based on in-person
  • So surely nothing could possibly go wrong. Yeah, right!

Slide 15

  • Lockdown started just when event 3 would have been.

Slide 16

  • So we needed to adapt our plans.

Slide 17

  • There was pessimism (‘we’ll have to abandon’)
  • There was optimism (‘stick it on a screen – she’ll be right’)
  • Thanks to our funders (the RSE), we could delay until we were ready.
  • And of course much of life was onscreen already. This is my desk at home.
    • Please note I am not trivialising digital divides here. I know from personal experience how deep and horrible they are. However, we believed that network members would to cope. I’ll show evidence that they did later.

Slide 18

  • Our adaptations were largely based on other online events we attended in 2020. Mine include
    • Two ‘Association for Information Science and Technology’ conferences
    • Informationszkompetenz und Democratie – information literacy and democracy
    • Information Seeking In Context – a world-wide conference
    • CILIPS’ own conference – which was brilliant

Slide 19

  • Our lessons from these were
    • Firstly, accept there are risks
    • Be nice to ourselves, and to others – this helps with my final point
    • Delegation – so thank you hugely to our PhD colleagues Rachel Salzano and Katherine Stephen who contributed so much, especially with the output-work
    • You need to do more preparation, and to practice presentations
    • Adapt your programme so people can get away from screens: half-day events and breaks for refreshments, stretching your back etc work well.
    • Use other channels for chat, engagement, interaction
    • Be seen to enjoy it – if you are an organiser, inspire others. I got this particularly from CILIPS 2020 – as I’ve said, librarians are fab!

Slide 20

  • So what did we achieve?
  • The following is all drawn from the surveys used for the full evaluation I mentioned earlier.

Slide 21

  • Most importantly, RIVAL survived – we overcame the difficulties caused by lockdown. There was impact from not being face-to-face, but the virtual meetings did work.

Slide 22

  • We built a network. From this amount of connections between members…

Slide 23

  • … to this

Slide 24

  • There was some narrowing of the research-practice gap. Our surveys told us network members developednew connections and strengthened existing connections. The network covered sub-sectors of LIS research and practice. RIVAL was diverse in terms of members’ profiles and the topics events covered.
  • We know that practitioners and academics are already integrating learning from each other into their work – and that others plan to.
    • I should admit we don’t know yet how well the network will carry on, or impact future behaviour – that needs more input, we think. So we are really looking forward to event 5 in November.

Slide 25

  • Practitioner members told us that RIVAL helped them increase their confidence about reaching professional goals, and in other ways.
  • Overall, network members agree that we have a model of network-building that can work in other areas where there are gaps between research and practice, for example nursing, social work, policing.

Slide 26

Slide 27

  • Examples include Hayley Lockerbie’s exploration of adapting to the pandemic at Aberdeenshire Libraries, Dina Martzoukou and Simon Burnett’s work with Syrian refugees, Lynne Robertson’s presentation on studying while working full time, and David Stewart’s keynote. Most of these are available as videos or as presentations with commentary.

Slide 28

  • We made a map, showing not only where network members are, and how to contact them, but also outlining their professional skills and interests.

Slide 29

Slide 30

  • So I think that supports our key messages. You can build collaborative networks, and achieve good things, even under lockdown. We have a model for doing so. But you do need to work at this – and get some funding.

Slide 31

  • And just to remind you what that model consists of:
    • Events are free to attend
    • They have enticing, relevant content
    • They have activities to break ice and build relationships
    • There needs to be communication and info-sharing between events
    • Members are a mix of academics and practitioners
      • For RIVAL, we had roughly a 1: 3 ratio of academics to practitioners
    • Board reflects the membership’s ranges of experience and diversity
    • Members have some control over content and outputs
    • Aim to create tangible outputs and resources

Slide 32

  • Here are the links I’ve mentioned. These slides – including the links – will be made available.

Slide 33

  • Thank you VERY much for listening to me. I’m very happy to answer questions, now or later.

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