Sunday, 1 September 2013

Why I love LIKE and why I no longer say I'm not a 'proper professional'.

LIKE is the acronym for the London Information and Knowledge Exchange and today I would like to extol its virtues.

What is it? 
LIKE is a community of Library, Information, Knowledge and Communication professionals. It meets regularly, usually monthly, to share stories, learn, and exchange knowledge in an informal and relaxed setting. Often a speaker delivers a presentation or a workshop which is then followed by dinner where members discuss what they have just heard or taken part in. Social events include visits and walks around interesting parts of London as well as the annual Christmas Dinner. During the last two summers LIKE Ideas conferences have also been held.


How I got into it?
I stumbled across LIKE in 2011 when I was browsing a LinkedIn profile and saw their group page. My first few experiences attending the events were rather daunting. As I walked up the stairs and encountered people who were dressed very smartly, seemed incredibly self-assured and generally oozed confidence, I felt like I didn't belong. I remember describing myself as someone who wasn't like the 'proper professionals yet' indicating the suited and booted people. I was immediately told to stop being so silly: I was here wasn't I and ready to learn just like everyone else in the room? Since then I've generally tried to take that advice on board and even when I really don't feel like I belong I certainly no longer announce it. After all, to rehash the line oft attributed to Woody Allen, eighty percent of success in life is in the showing up.

As I attended events on copyright, information literacy, coaching, knowledge transfer, and knowledge management, and much more; I began to realise that these were topics which affected library and information professionals across a vast array of sectors. It can be quite easy to become purely focused on the sector we are working in, however, by taking heed of the broader picture I think we can help each other by understanding the key issues we all deal with.

In 2012, a call was put out for volunteers to help put together the inaugural conference. I was interested in its topic (Social Media) and I thought it would be a nice way of saying thank you to the people who had organised the previous events so I offered my services. The conference was a great success and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with a fantastic team of people to put it together so allowed myself to be roped in to the next one, on Big Data this time, the following year.

How it has helped me
I have learned a lot from attending individual events, which I always write about after attending, and I have received much more from my involvement with LIKE. This could generally, but with some cross-over, be organised into two categories - skills learned and benefits gained:

Skills learned:
  • Using Twitter more effectively -  archiving tweets, getting the tone right, using it to get information out as well as connect with members and stimulate conversation, live-tweeting events - learning from all of this and then putting it into practise again at the next conference
  • Asking people for sponsorship - I tried doing this for the first conference and I didn't raise a single penny. At the next one, I learned from the mistakes I made and managed to raise £400 and also generate a possible sponsor for the next conference too. I rarely feel comfortable asking for anything so I was very pleased with this result
  • Event amplification - learning to utilise as many channels as possible to promote a message and contacting people directly rather than using a scatter-gun impersonal approach. I recently received just such an email from a Special Libraries Association (SLA) Candidate for President-Elect and was very impressed so it does work
  • Gathering and analysing feedback - this is very important as you may think that everything went well and people were smiling when really they were all sweltering and unable to locate the bathroom. The problems may not be able to be solved there and then but you can ensure they are never repeated

Benefits gained:
  • Meeting lots of new people - due to the variety of the events and the tables usually being organised by food choices, I get to meet new faces as well as more familiar ones so the resulting serendipity regularly guarantees a great evening
  • Realising that conference bags don't stuff themselves - someone has to go to the effort of thinking of everything, from finding good speakers and arranging the order they present in a way which makes sense and flows well to finding a location which isn't too stuffy, has clean toilets, decent wi-fi and enough space to mingle. I now have a great deal of respect for anyone involved in conference organising
  • Being part of a close network - I have now met many lovely people from a range of library and information sectors through LIKE who I wouldn't hesitate to get in touch with if I needed to
  • Having the opportunity to pay it back and forward - attending planning meetings, writing up events I've attended for those who can't, offering ideas for events and having them accepted, and giving talented people I know the chance to present has meant that I've been able to both give back to LIKE and to develop the profession. It's a fantastic feeling.

What next?
LIKE is currently in the planning stage for next year's itinerary of events and would benefit from more volunteers. I'm taking a back step for now, especially from conference planning, as it is coming to a very busy period of work for me and I'm hoping to move house soon. If I have convinced anybody that LIKE is A GOOD THING (if anyone actually reads this, that is) then I hope you will consider volunteering or at least popping along to a future event and seeing what all the fuss is about. Just one tip - don't say you aren't a proper professional, because you most certainly are!