Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Sharing, building & being present at Internet Librarian International

The Internet Librarian International conference is a place to share practical ideas and approaches to issues in the library and information sector. It is a place where people are not afraid to stand up and say "I did this and it didn't work". It was the first time I had attended this conference as its cost is far beyond my means and having been lucky enough to take an SLA Europe colleague's place who couldn't make it I was determined to get the most out of it.

After the keynote sessions, the conference was split into themed 'streams' which were jam-packed with speakers with most of them getting about 20 minutes each including time for questions. This meant it was very fast-paced and lots of notes were written and tweets tweeted, until I started running out of battery that is. I'm not going to go through every single session I attended at the two-day conference but just pick out some of the highlights and overall themes.

Relationship building

Relationship building cropped up as a theme time and time again throughout the conference. It started with the keynote on the first day by Peter Morville, President of Semantic Studios and author of a number of information architecture titles. Amongst many other topics, he spoke about Moocs, the Khan Academy, flipped classrooms and iPads in Ethiopia all being perceived as magic bullets yet aren't because the relationships between educationalists and technologists don't exist. He believes librarians can be the links that bring these two disparate groups together.

Ben Showers, Programme Manager at  JISC, also spoke about Moocs but in the context of them being a wake-up call to librarians to seriously consider how they engage with users online. He stressed the urgent need to better understand the behaviours and motivations of our users. In another session Paula Evans and Heather Lincoln, business librarians from Imperial College London, spoke of how maintaining relationships with course administrators meant they had 100% of module reading lists - something of a perennial problem for academic librarians.  Dr. Starr Hoffman, an academic librarian, emphasised that research is now even more of a conversation than it ever was  - the old style of academic conversing via academic conferences and print moving towards blogs and open access.

Relationship building and creating conversations, in my opinion, is becoming increasingly important for the library profession. This is generally what we are good at yet too often I see cliques and silos being created within departments and sectors. Although this is common when people feel threatened it doesn't help in the long term. Creating, strengthening and maintaining relationships between library staff, institutional staff, and users is crucial for identifying needs, putting us in a strong position to provide impact, and to remain relevant. The more relevant you are to the institution the more valuable you will be.

Phil Bradley taking part in a 'Search Slam' with Marydee Ojala (not pictured). I got lots of new tips for teaching students here.
Thinking strategically

Over the two days there was a lot of emphasis placed on behaving strategically, aligning your library's objectives to those of your institution, and paying careful attention to why things are done rather than just what is done. Karin Westerberg, in her session on change in academia, referred to using SWOT analyses and Gartner's hype cycles to decide which technologies to focus on. Dr. Staff Hoffman suggested analysing the institution's strategic plan to work out where librarians can offer support and build on what is already offered. She also emphasised the importance of being selective - focusing on strengths and not trying to do everything.

Ken Chad told us to start with our institution's strategic plans and look at what needed to be done, breaking problems users face into categories rather than the users themselves, e.g. undergraduates, postgraduates etc. Meanwhile, Elisabet Brynge, Ulla Solsmo and Ulf Holke from three separate Swedish public libraries spoke about using virtual conference technology in their book groups followed by Willie Miller and William Orme from IUPUI who outlined how they had used YouTube video games to educate users about library resources - both sets of speakers emphasising the need to focus on outcomes and to have a clear understanding of why projects are being undertaken.

It can be easy to forget why you do what you do sometimes, especially if you have been doing the same job for a long time. Sometimes a lovely comment from a student can bring it to the forefront of your brain, other times it can be attending a conference like this one. Creating annual reports, filling in Matrix forms and ticking boxes off the Customer Service Excellence Standard can all seem frustrating and tiresome but they often provide us with the opportunity to take a step back and really focus on the overall strategic objectives.

Being present

When I say being present I mean this in two different ways. The first way is being visible to others. Peter Morville advocated being where your users are, providing resources at the point of need, having a single search box and locating this in as many places as possible. Where I work we have Summon, a single search box, and we integrate this into our online library guides, some VLE courses and, of course, the Library homepage. We don't have the statistics yet to find out where users are searching most so it may be quite interesting to see the results.

Aase Andreasen from Politiken and Andy Tattersall and Claire Beecroft from the University of Sheffield discussed getting out there and being physically present. What resonated with me most though was Joe Tree, Blipfoto founder's keynote speech on how his creation helps people be present in their minds. His main argument was that while people thoughtlessly post thousands of pictures they are less present than those who were new to photography and who carefully annotated their memories. As a fan of yoga and using mindfulness in life and in the workplace I was very pleased with the connections this made between the various aspects of my life.

Final conclusions

I really enjoyed this conference and got a lot out if it and there are still lots of hints and tips and links I hope to follow up in the future. While I find constantly being 'on' during conferences - networking, chatting to vendors etc exhausting, I generally leave feeling motivated and pleased that I'm still doing the day job and this was no exception. I'll leave you with one of my first tweets from the conference.