Thursday, 10 July 2014

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside...

Sat by the beach in Brighton: the sun glistens on the calm gentle waves of the sea; families walk past eating their ice creams; a pensioner relays his memories of the attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher and her party at the Grand Hotel bombing; and a lone man uses ski poles to navigate his way across the pebble beach.

It was 23rd June and I was in a very warm Brighton to facilitate a workshop [presentation here] at my first ARLG conference and had managed to breathe in a little of the sea air to prepare myself before it started. I was glad I did! The three days I spent there were full of sunshine, cups of tea, way too many Star Trek references (I realise I may be in a minority thinking this), lots of sharing of ideas and great opportunities to meet other academic librarians.
The start of the conference
Jon Purcell, Librarian at Durham University, opened up the conference by asking how many of the audience had had new responsibilities and tasks thrust upon them – almost everyone had, himself included. He examined why libraries have expanded their remit beyond their core activities and came to the conclusion that it is because they can be trusted to get the job done. He emphasised that being relevant and having visual proof of the impact made is essential for survival.

One thing he said which resonated with me was that if you are going to take on new tasks and new responsibilities then in order to fulfill those duties effectively something has to be dropped. Working out what these things are can help clarify priorities as well as maintain stress levels, which can easily rise when trying to do more with the same resources. He had a really good photo, which unfortunately I didn't take a picture of, which showed predicted trends in librarianship with green post-its indicating what needs to be done more of and pink for what needs to be done less.

Another keynote I particularly liked was by Madeleine Lefebvre from Ryerson University in Toronto in which she talked us through the design of the new building. It is going to change significantly and each level is designed around a theme of nature. Many of the members of the audience tweeted that they’d be on the beach floor – I think you’d find me either on the garden or on the forest floor. It would be great to see how it actually works in practice, especially as much of it was open plan and Toronto gets very cold, so I hope she does a follow up talk at some point [hint hint, ARLG!].

Learning from my experience at the LILAC conference, I found writing a list of takeaway points to be quite useful so here are my main ones:
  • Some of the main successes people spoke about came about through collaboration, whether that be on a small scale such as collaboration across a library service e.g. the international project at Bradford or a much larger scale e.g. collaboration between a university, the council and the archives at the Keep
  • Don’t treat information literacy skills as generic; try as much as you can to link them with skills they need in their profession. This worked a treat with Journalism students at Dublin University where the skills needed are almost identical. I’m going to be looking after journalism students soon so want to utilise this quite a bit
  • Drawing road maps of the (assignment/dissertation/study) journey ahead is surprisingly effective. As a person who is quite happy working with bullet-points and lists I found the workshop by Kaye Towlson and Carol Keddie from DeMontfort University certainly took me out of my comfort zone but it gave me a very clear structure and plan to work with – something I will consider in some of the Getting Started sessions I provide 
  • Credo has written an info lit course with materials – including a humorous but quite cringe-inducing video featuring Stu Dent versus big baddie Bias
  • It’s quite possible to (almost, and despite not being very ‘games-minded’) create an information literacy game on the topic of getting started with literature reviews within 45 minutes, featuring counters, teams, competition, and cooperation – I also got chance to relive my love of Play-Doh!
    Plans for the game
While it was a bit of a shock to the system to be in halls (although much nicer than any places I stayed when I was a student – no silver fish or fizzing light bulbs to inch my way around) I got a lot out of my time at ARLG. Like LILAC, it was a great opportunity to meet other subject librarians -  many of whom aren't on Twitter. Additionally, it contained very practical tips related to my everyday job as opposed to the softer skills that have been the focus of other conferences I have previously attended.  While both have their place I do appreciate something I can try out within a short period of time.

Ultimately, it was worthwhile attending and I'd like to thank the ARLG Committee for putting together a very informative and well organised conference.


  1. I would choose the forest floor too!
    I agree with your point about having practical take-homes. Conferences can be great for blue sky thinking and learning about stuff you’ve never encountered before, but sometimes that can be quite exhausting! Being able to slot what you’re learning into your existing schema just makes things a bit easier and feel more productive.
    It’s also a very good point about having to let something go if you want to take something new on. It’s obvious, but it’s definitely something I forget and I expect most people do too. Sometimes you need to do that type of exercise, or have someone else point it out, to realise it and to work out what to prioritise (and perhaps delegate).

  2. Thanks for your comment, Ruth. I certainly agree it can be difficult to decide what has to go if you are taking something new on and something I've only just been starting to get to grips with this last year. It seems to be working so far...

    I quite liked how outlining that approach to others can help them see what it is we do and also might help us work out what their priorities are e.g. If I do this new task for you which of these other activities would you like me to drop? Sometimes what we think of as very valuable might not be viewed as such at all.