As a fledging librarian who has recently completed a post graduate diploma in Library and Information Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, I was delighted to be able to get one of three student places offered to this years’ cohort to attend It’s Great Up North.  

As a former journalist, I have attended a lot of conferences for work – always with instructions on which seminars to get a story from and who to interview, while always keeping an ear out for stories and tips.

This conference, however, was the first I could attend purely for fun and to extend my own knowledge. I was hoping to meet as many health librarians and library staff as possible and improve my learning along the way. As I am actively seeking my first professional post I also wanted to make some contacts, get tips and advice on job hunting and put some names to faces from those I have seen on blog posts and Twitter feeds. And last but not least, I was also excited to have a night away from home - I have two young children and don’t often get the opportunity to have a night off!    

I signed up for the conference’s randomised coffee trial and was matched with Michael Cook, Public Health Evidence and Knowledge Specialist at Bolton Council. I was delighted with this as I live not that far from Bolton and was keen to meet other library professionals from the area – as well as from further afield.

In the end we first met sooner than expected - upon getting on the train from Manchester with my fellow student place conference attendee Amy, I realised that Michael was on the same train and we found the venue together.

It was exciting to realise that the venue, the handsome The Old Swan, was the location for Agatha Christie’s ‘disappearance’ in 1926 (my mum is a huge Agatha Christie fan so I pledged to return, with her).



Once unpacked, my first issue was which seminars to attend, as I was fortunate enough to have a place for the whole conference. Looking through the programme in advance, it was clear I was going to be spoilt for choice. I decided to make searching and searching skills my primary focus, but whittling down which seminars to attend was still difficult.



After listening to the welcome keynote speeches by David Stewart and Macmillan information manager Helen Bright and a tea break Amy and I headed for our first seminar of the conference. This included presentations by Helen Kiely on the use of jargon in health library and evidence settings (based on research carried out for her MA dissertation) and by Deena Maggs, Victoria Treadway and Suzanne Wilson on how library and knowledge services can influence evidence-based patient information. Having been a health and social care journalist, I am fairly familiar with health jargon, but it was clear health libraries have legions of their own jargon to contend with and there is much for librarians to do to help disseminate it into user friendly language. The project discussed by Deena, Victoria and Suzanne sounds really interesting and a great example of how LKS can be a real force for positive change in services.



After another tea break (I am always up for a conference where there lots of different types of tea are available) I went to hear Michael Cook’s workshop on searching in public health. This introduced me to a number of issues I had not considered in detail before, such as the role grey literature can play in searching around complex or novel issues. As a journalist, grey literature is your research bread and butter and it was interesting to hear the role this and other search strategies can play in an area of health long shuffled between the NHS and local authorities. (Another top tip from this workshop – almost no one in the UK knows what monkey pox is.)      

After an evening spent putting the world to rights with more new library friends I had never met before or only had a Twitter acquaintance with, I will admit to having been rather tired on the conference’s second day. But there were far too many great sounding sessions awaiting me to miss anything.

The three minutes of mayhem and 30 second poster presentations that started Friday’s proceedings were a brilliant idea – they gave the delegates opportunities to get a short introduction to many more projects that could ever be achieved through more conventional methods. After that it was time for the first seminar of the day. Again, deciding what to attend was a difficult choice. I plumped for hearing Sarah Catton present on moving into public health research after working on a business desk (interesting as my MMU course tutors have stressed to us over the last year that moving between library sectors is highly possible).



I also heard presentations from Rachel Steele on supporting systematic reviews, from Sue Steele on helping GP trainees interpret statistics and a late morning seminar from Samantha Gavaghan, Sylvia Hughes, Claire Masterman, Rachel Steele and Joanne Naughton on health literacy  – all thought provoking and useful insights into extending the ‘usefulness’ of a library service beyond the essentials.

All were worth attending. But I wish I had been able to replicate myself to also be able to listen to other sessions on more strategic issues, such as Tracey Prachett’s workshop on e-learning to enhance library search skills training, Sinead English’s presentation on library service promotion and Suzanne Wilson on health librarians ability to support strategic change. In fact, I am not sure there were any seminars throughout the two days that I would not have gained something from. 

Also on the second day Michael Cook and I had our pre-arranged meet and we had a really helpful chat about skills development and gaining a first job in the health libraries sector. 

Throughout the conference I was continually reminded how helpful and welcoming health library staff are. It’s Great Up North had a genuinely warm and convivial atmosphere and no-one I spoke to was less than kind and helpful. There was also a definite slant towards being as inclusive as possible towards less experienced and non-qualified staff being able to present and also opportunities for fun, with prizes awarded for a bake off, a quiz and voted for best conference sessions and presentations.    

After closing remarks It’s Great Up North drew to a close – as my fellow student Erica remarked, it was the first conference either of us had ever attended that finished early, let alone on time!

This left Amy and I plenty of time to get an earlier train that planned back to Manchester. It was a journey on which further talk about library careers was possible with our fellow passenger Claire Bradshaw. It also resulted in me losing a shoe, now forever doomed to spend life on the lines at platform one of Leeds station, but that’s a story for another day!     




With grateful thanks to all at LKS North, especially Gil Young, and MMU Library and Information Management programme leader Dr Geoff Walton for the opportunity to attend the conference. 

Emma Dent
Recent Library and Information Management student and aspiring health librarian