Monday, 22 October 2012

Library Camp UK 2012

Early mornings, swearing and gaming...

On Saturday 13th October, I awoke at 4am to attend my second Birmingham Library Camp, this time at the Signing Tree Conference Centre. For those not in the know a Library Camp is an unconference attended by people interested in libraries. I had been unsure about whether to go for several reasons; one of which was that my promise to 'just say no' didn't seem to be going too well…

Last year I went up the evening before and regret not doing that this time as firstly I was very tired and secondly, I didn't get as much chance to chat and catch up with people as I would have liked to.

Due to late running trains, I arrived just as the pitches were occurring. I had decided not to pitch this time as last year I had had a specific issue to discuss (HE in FE) but this time I just wanted to find out more about general issues affecting Higher Education.

I'm not going to give an overview of everything I attended as a lot of people will be doing that, however, I have mentioned a couple of the most interesting and/or useful below:

Image by Sasha Taylor

Swearing in libraries:

This session was about dealing with aggressive people in libraries not about swearing librarians. Perhaps it was the early start but I wasn't very happy with this session. I get that people need to let off steam but there seemed to be a lot of anger directed at students (for being angry & sweary) and management (for seemingly doing nothing about it and not taking it seriously) and less focus on tips to deal with it.

I think a lot can depend on your organisation’s approach - has every rule got to be enforced regardless of whether it makes sense, if the rules do make sense do people know what the reasons are - there's nothing more ridiculous than someone saying "I know it's a silly rule but my bosses say we have to do it".

It's also about personality - if you don't feel good inside after helping someone find what they need in a library and you see every visitor as a potential villain rather than someone you can help then you probably shouldn't be anywhere near a customer - facing role!

Being nice, staying calm and taking someone's concerns seriously doesn't mean being a pushover and it doesn't make it okay for people to be abusive, however, it can create a better overall atmosphere to work in, to be in generally and will often stop potential situations escalating. It also helps management/ community support officers take situations, when they do happen, seriously - it is important to have a good relationship with them. Some of the best tips were from people who had to deal with serious safety issues in libraries, e.g. in a prison library. Focusing on things like body language and your own prejudgements can really make a difference.

Gaming in libraries:

I really enjoyed this session. Not being a gamer, but having seen the competitive instinct that gets into students through quizzes I have used in the past, I thought this would be a good session to attend. Andrew Walsh @andywalsh999 from University of Huddersfield introduced us to an information literacy card game which I could really see the value of in a small setting, especially for younger pupils. I was surprised that the university students didn't feel patronised by it and he did say that the feedback from the students suggested that they were initially apprehensive but did go on to enjoy it. For larger groups games can be trickier; there are voting systems like 'who wants to be a millionaire' but these can be fiddly and awkward to use and I know some people use Poll Everywhere, which seems to go down well. This is something I would definitely like to pay more attention to in my own teaching sessions.

Issues in academic libraries:

This session was led by Christina Harbour @tinalpool and covered the perennial problems of IT and library staff working together and how this can affect the seamless approach to customer service students want, staff and students not knowing they are using the library because they use the electronic resources, the rise of tuition fees and how to manage changing student expectations while also dealing with substantial budget cuts. There was a discussion about branding the information access pages to make it clearer to the students that they were using paid for resources but the general consensus was that this would a negative impact on access.

We spoke about students not knowing what was available to them and I argued that we should be going to the academics and promoting that what we do can benefit both them and their students rather than waiting for them to come to us. This has the added value of them in turn telling their students about what is available and them, consequentally, seeing the benefit of their information literacy skills sessions.

Because we were discussing drawing people’s attention to the value of academic libraries, Liz Jolly referred to the JISC Library Impact Data Project, which sets out to demonstrate a ‘statistically significant correlation between library usage and student attainment’ and has proven, to a degree, that using library print and electronic resources is intrinsically linked to students performance at university.

Despite my initial reservations, I was glad I attended. I didn’t really learn anything new but it was good to see a few familiar faces and put other faces to familiar Twitter names. A few of us got the impression that not a lot of action was coming out the sessions but having recently looked at the Library Camp homepage that seems to have been rectified.

My plans:
  • Possibly promote mindfulness and empathy in the workplace
  • Look at alternative ways of promoting library resources and information literacy 
  • Look into creating information literacy games for students in large lecture halls

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