Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Surviving in the Google age? From the Gurteen Knowledge Cafe.

Straight after the Internet Librarian International conference, I headed over to my first ever Gurteen Knowledge Cafe at the British Library's Business and  IP Centre. For anyone not familiar with them, the Cafes start off with small groups talking to each other to discuss a topic; attendees then move around the tables to carry on the conversation until finally everyone sits in one large circle to finish the conversation.

David Gurteen told us he used this technique around the world and finds it successful because it takes away pressure and hierarchy. I could see how this sort of format would work well with people who generally don't like being in large groups. By the time you are in the large circle intimate and intense chats with small groups of individuals have already been had - perfect for introverts. The overall themes which stuck out for me were almost identical to the ones at the conference, presumably because some of the attendees had been heavily involved in organising it and also because they are real areas librarians and information professionals should be focusing on.

The topic

The topic up for discussion and introduced by Neil Infield was "What steps to do libraries and information services need to take to survive in the Google age?". We were asked to discuss the skills librarians were perceived to have before Google and those in the present day and to then discuss the slide below:

Relationship building

Relationship building as a strength was repeated regularly both in the small and in the large groups and, indeed, is exactly what the Business and IP Centre had decided to do too ensure its relevancy. Users there are considered to be clients rather than readers. With budget cuts and more information available online it was generally agreed that building trust and being the 'go-to' people in the institution was the way forward. This approach would save the time of the reader as they wouldn't waste it trying out tools which didn't work effectively or spend it looking for information which could be better found elsewhere.

Relationship building is a key part of my job which is why the word liaison is included in my job title. I make an effort to be visible and approachable in my subject areas and have become involved in delivering workshops on how to use social media in teaching and in research for new academic staff. These sessions weren't officially part of my remit, however, they've helped initiate lots of conversations which then helps me move onto the conversations I want and need to have, for example, regarding reading lists and budgets.

Strategic planning

Strategic planning is essential for all workers - if you don't know why you are doing something then how are going to convince anyone else? Alongside the themes of  building relationships and  establishing trust, this too cropped up during the evening. There was a lot of discussion about choosing small things and doing them really well and generating income instead of consuming and being seen as an overhead. There were discussions about business alignment and using the language of the institution which is something I would have previously presumed most places were doing already. I did like the idea of using the word 'solve' rather than the word 'help' to describe what staff do as it's a subtle and, I think, quite effective shift. As long as you do 'solve', of course.

Final conclusions

What I found most interesting from this event was the repeated emphasis on the themes I had just encountered in the ILI conference, especially that of building trust and creating and maintaining relationships  as I've always considered this to be an important part of my work.  I liked the format of the Knowledge Cafe as I prefer working in small groups and it did mean that despite there being a lot of people in attendance when we came to be one large group it didn't feel overwhelming. You know the type where everyone's trying to say their piece and not listening to each other. Although there are always going to be some elements of that happening there seemed to be less in this case.

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