Wednesday, 28 May 2014

#LILAC14 : You don't have to be an old woman to wear purple.

I was surrounded by people in lilac; lilac t-shirts, lilac dresses, lilac shirts. All sporting a lilac-coloured conference bag. Normally, I would think "Wow - that's a lot of people wearing purple!" and it would remind me of the Jenny Joseph poem, but this wasn't a normal occasion;  indeed, I was attending my first LILAC conference and attendees were dressed accordingly!

I had heard from several people I respect that this was the UK conference to attend so I was very much looking forward to it. In addition, it was a chance to catch up with people and put a few more faces to Twitter names. It being in Sheffield also meant I could tie it in with a quick visit to family in nearby Barnsley, which was an added bonus.


My old library in Barnsley. Now closed and waiting to be demolished.
I was expecting the conference to have a very narrow focus, e.g. on the minutiae of information literacy teaching,  the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy and on encouraging students to become critical researchers. While there was plenty of this, many of the presentations, especially the keynotes, had a much wider angle, for example, with SLA President, Kate Arnold,  we heard about the Financial Times report on the future career of the information professional.

The BBC's  Bill Thomas, too, emphasised the need for librarians to understand the systems we use. His reasoning being that we lose our civic freedoms by not engaging with them and can't promote a free, liberal society without being able to challenge how they are being used. These were big topics to digest.

I try to go to as many conferences as time and bursaries will allow and I mainly go along for the following:
  • To learn new things
  • To confirm knowledge that I already have
  • To meet interesting people


I don't generally go for the swag but must admit the LILAC notebooks were lovely.

So, at LILAC I learned:
  • How to create and edit Wikipedia
  • That reflection is a form of coaching for the self
  • That reflection in action (very similar to mindfulness, in my opinion) is considered more effective than reflection on action
  • That librarians and information professionals should have a global plan to use information skills to maintain democracy and push against the influx of information overload
  • That presenters can't get enough of wordles

At LILAC, I confirmed:
  • That trying to attend every single session possible is sometimes counterproductive. I found doing this to be really quite exhausting. I still haven't quite established the balance between fear of missing out and giving my brain space to process
  • That students spend too much time worrying about the style of their referencing rather than the whys and the wherefores - this is definitely something that we could spend more time addressing in my own workplace
  • That students often use the same few sources they have been recommended by their lecturers 
  • That both staff and students struggle with keeping up to date - they can feel overwhelmed by the choices available. We currently provide this information in our workshops and on our website and it's certainly worth reviewing whether this format is still appropriate 
  • That we don't always know what skills people have. This came out in session run by Jess Haigh where she talked about how putting together an online murder mystery in the library was a chance for people to use under-utilised skills. Doing so also helped to bring creativity into the workspace, helped staff enjoy their job again and encouraged students to try resources they hadn't used before. It sounded fun.

One of the best pieces of advice came from Nancy Graham while she sat at the conference's closing panel. She recommended sharing what we had learned via practical tips rather than sending a report round to colleagues. Reports can sometimes be unwieldy and less likely to lead to any changes whereas as tips are straightforward and can be much easier to implement.

So in the spirit of this, in addition to what I mention above, some of the most practical tips I took away were:
  • Keep a diary of teaching reflections - what went well, what didn't etc
  • When teaching referencing, focus much more on the why rather than the how
  • Focus on helping students get started with research (Dr Alison Head's Project Information Literacy identified this as the most difficult part for students)
  • Have an identifiable brand for Library programmes. One example of this was the Steps to Success scheme at Edge Hill,  which I liked the sound of. It encapsulates a variety of subjects, including the Digital Tattoo workshops - a title which I am very tempted to pinch, erm... borrow and give credit for obviously

In conclusion...
I thoroughly enjoyed what was a friendly, informative and motivating couple of days. I've only ever organised half-day conferences and they are exhausting so my sincere thanks to the Information Literacy Group for putting together such a well-organised event and doing a fantastic job. I would definitely recommend the conference to anyone interested in information literacy - there are usually plenty of bursaries advertised in the run up to the conference, especially for less represented sectors such as Further Education and Health so do keep an eye out.