Sunday, 5 January 2014

Library Camp UK 2013

On Saturday 30th November 2013, I attended my 4th Library Camp Unconference and 3rd held in Birmingham. Previous write-ups are available - see 20112012, and 2013 in London. For those unfamiliar with the term, an unconference is a place where perceived status is left at the door, delegates pitch for sessions on the day, and the Law of Two Feet apply. It is also free which is a big bonus as I generally have to self-fund my professional development.

This one was held at the new Library of Birmingham; I had been looking forward to seeing the new building and it didn't disappoint. The Library was full of people using it, talking about it and generally wandering around in awe of it. It had a lovely mix of the old and new: from a great glass elevator (sorry, but great, glass lift just doesn't sound right after reading Dahl!) to a wood-panelled Shakespeare archive at the top of the building. Amazing views and beautiful gardens accompanied visitors all the way to the top. There seemed to be a space available for every type of person who wanted to use it.

Library of Birmingham
Glass Elevator
Library gardens

The talks I attended covered a wide variety of topics and I took away hints and tips throughout the day; however, I noticed that some issues kept cropping up throughout many of the sessions so have grouped these together.

Clean up your language:

Using 'clean language' means thinking carefully about how words might be perceived and removing any metaphors or emotional triggers from them. I've come across this concept before in a coaching session I attended a while ago and it is a technique often used in therapy. This popped into my mind in at least two of the sessions I attended.

One such session, and very popular it was too, was one on evidence-based librarianship led by Penny Andrews. During the conversations, the importance of using language carefully was highlighted, especially when referring to research on libraries. Do we mean academic libraries, school libraries, public libraries, corporate etc? We can't assume that what works for one might work for others so it is important to be specific.

For my very first session of the day, I chose to attend a speaking and performance workshop led by Gareth Johnson. In it we spent some time 'colouring' our language by reciting nursery rhymes in overtly dramatical or angry voices. We also focused on the ebb and flow of conversation (is it too fast/too forceful etc) by breaking it down into units and trying to communicate using only these. I found practicing negotiating for a budget using only the word six to be very tricky!

Be a professional:

Librarianship, for many people, is more than just a job. When we sign up to complete the course we sign up to a code of ethics and by ensuring we are always learning and developing our skills we are showing our commitment and dedication to that profession. This was emphasised both in the group session discussing the direction of CILIP, the professional organisation's representative body, and in the evidence-based library session.

Generally, librarians try to improve the work they do by referring to best practice and shared knowledge but it was emphasised that there should be a much more systematic use of all available research in order to ensure that what is being used really works. Doing so will help to prevent the continuation of debunked theories, such as learning styles and left-right brain usage, and help maintain the professional status of librarians.

It's good to share:

I think there is a tendency when under threat to retrench and stop sharing, especially in times of restructures and general economic downturns. However, sharing, for me, was the main theme of the day. It's also been the overriding theme of a few events I've attended recently and library and information professionals are usually very good at it.  If anyone goes to a conference, reads something interesting related to their work, or hears about a great idea then it's the right thing to share this with their team and/or line manager. If this doesn't happen people could keep doing the same old thing not realising that there might be a better way.

In the evidence-based session we heard how librarians working in universities may take it for granted they have access to academic databases and have knowledge of services such as Opendoar, Educause, and the work that the Library and Information Research Group does, while those working in other areas of the sector may have little or no knowledge of these yet really want to access the research. We didn't really come to any solutions with this one apart from to remind ourselves to keep sharing with each other too.

#Libcampuk13 attendees
In conclusion...

Last year, I had decided I wouldn't attend another Library Camp. I had started to feel like they were becoming too much like the conferences they were set up to be different from. However, I was persuaded by a colleague with the offer of a road trip and when a ticket came up at the last minute I took it so, with homemade brownies in tow, we made our way to Birmingham. I didn't regret it at all. I had a lovely day out, met some great people, talked and learned about things I care about and visited an amazing looking library with its eyes firmly on the future.

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