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CILIP 2015: learning points and reflections

Continuing my Epic Month of Conferences, on 2-3 July I headed to Liverpool for the CILIP conference. I was really excited for this one, largely because of the very high quality keynote speakers listed! I was also excited because it’s been a while since I attended a CILIP conference (my last Umbrella was in 2011 I think). And from the looks of the programme and all the pre-conference materials I’d seen, they’d made a real effort to make it relevant and responsive to the needs of information professionals across a wide range of sectors.

St George's Hall, Liverpool

St George’s Hall, Liverpool – a beautiful place for a conference!

There was a really positive, inspiring atmosphere at the conference – something which hasn’t always been present at UK library events, so it was good to see it here! I don’t know if I took quite as many practical things away with me to apply to my work as I did from SLA, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

What I did get from this conference is a real sense of the range of work information professionals are involved in, and the importance of this to society as a whole. It was great for reaffirming my commitment to the profession, as well as of course contributing to my knowledge of the wider professional context! (Why yes, I am chartering, how did you guess..?)

As with SLA, I live-tweeted the conference and have made a Storify of my tweets, retweets and favourites from each day, please see links below for detail of what was discussed:

Here’s my main learning points and reflections from the conference.

The keynotes

As mentioned above, the keynotes were initially my main reason for wanting to attend the conference! I was not disappointed: all the keynote speakers were engaging, inspiring, and made excellent points about the future and importance of the profession. As a general reflection, I really can’t top @bethanar’s heartfelt and eloquent post, which I urge you all to read!

It was great to see the keynote speakers tackling issues like information poverty, information security and privacy, freedom of information, librarians as educators, and the importance of access to information about our rights. These are all really key issues that should be at the heart of everything we do, but I’m not sure they’ve always had the attention they deserve in the UK library sector. (It’s telling to contrast this with the US, where ALA seems to take a much more active campaigning stance on information rights, for example on net neutrality.) It was heartening to see CILIP put these issues front and centre through its choice of keynotes, and I hope this focus continues.

My main learning points:

  • The work we do as information professionals is vital, and we need to ensure people know that.
  • If your work is the kind that is invisible when done well, make sure you tell people about it!
  • Librarians are not neutral, and we shouldn’t pretend to be. Access to information, literacy etc. are all political issues.
  • Libraries are not free! All our users have invested in the service, whether through taxes, student fees, or as part of a company’s overhead – that means everyone has a stake in the service, and we should make that clear.
  • Our role as educators and providers of information is crucial in an information society – whether that is providing information on our human rights, or signposting to other information providers such as fact-checking organisations.

The parallel sessions

Jan Parry’s talk about her work on the Hillsborough enquiry was a real eye-opener. I didn’t realise quite how much investigative work she did, for example in tracking down the families of the victims – right down to knocking on neighbours’ doors to track down people who’d moved away! As well as the general sense of awe at Jan’s compassion and professionalism in what must have been a very emotionally challenging job, I picked up the following points:

  • The importance of good record keeping – despite previous enquiries, there was no full list of all the victims’ families. The enquiry was very family-centric, which was why one of Jan’s first jobs was to track them all down – which took more than 2 years!
  • The need to promote what we do – Jan often got asked what she had to do with the panel, by people who didn’t understand what relevance a librarian had to the work. She explained that she was an expert in finding and recording information – which is not how people generally think of librarians! We are hugely vital to this kind of work though, which is why after Hillsborough, all independent panels are now going to have the involvement of information and records professionals.
  • The importance of knowledge management! There had been previous incidents and near-misses at Hillsborough before the tragedy but lessons weren’t learned – this struck me as a stark reminder of why open communication about risks and challenges is needed in every organisation.

Elizabeth Oddy and Anne Middleton’s talk about the pop-up library at Newcastle University was hugely impressive. This was a project undertaken to tackle the problem of overcrowding in the library. In response to student feedback about what they wanted from a library space, the librarians successfully argued their case to be given use of a conference building.

This was the really impressive part, to me: after first being offered just one room in the building, they managed to get permission to use the whole building, by using the data they’d gathered from door entry stats, student requests, and the other feedback they’d got from various means, to demonstrate the high demand for this service and prove that they could fill the building. This is a really good illustration of why you should back up your project ideas with data!

My other main takeaways:

  • Collect feedback everywhere – the librarians used everything from online surveys, ballot boxes, social media, to just stopping students in the library to ask what they thought. This ensured everyone could have a say!
  • Have a clear value prospect – they knew exactly what they wanted to achieve with this project so were able to articulate it clearly to decision makers.
  • Use the student voice! All of us in HE know how important the student experience is – we can make use if this if we are providing things we know the students want (see also: collecting feedback, above!)
  • Having a strong design/brand is important – I love the pop-art theme they came up with for branding, and the theme itself got them further exposure on top of the great response to the pop-up library itself.

Finally, Leo Appleton and Andy Tattersall’s talk on harnessing the power of social media for the benefit of library users was a good overview of the opportunities social media presents for libraries and librarians. It was a pretty wide-ranging talk, covering social media for research, for enquiries, and for promotion. Here’s my takeaways:

  • Social media is part of your enquiry service, whether you like it or not! If you’re there, people will ask you questions, and will expect a quick response.
  • Social media accounts must be responsive. I would argue that having a dead account is worse than having no account at all. Don’t set up social media accounts if you don’t have time to populate them!
  • The University of Sheffield’s Research Hacks videos look great: nice short videos introducing different social media services and their uses.
  • Dissemination channels for research are changing (e.g. expanding from scholarly journals and conferences to blogs, social media and open access publications), therefore the way we measure impact should change too. Altmetrics (e.g. number of shares/likes, links back, conversations on social media) can supplement traditional impact and citation data.

The networking

Maybe it’s because I’ve got more confident myself in networking, but I found it much easier to strike up conversations with people at this conference than I have at previous UK conferences. A lot of this I think was also down to the hard work of the CILIP Fringe team, who put on some great unconference-style sessions and events – that really helped people get talking together! I also really enjoyed talking to the exhibitors (encouraged by the chance of winning an iPad for collecting a sticker from everyone!) – as @joeyanne points out in her blog post on the conference, the exhibitors help make the conference what it is.

Usually at conferences I talk to one or two exhibitors that I need to know something from specifically, and ignore the rest. This time I made an effort to talk to everyone, even those that didn’t have any relevance to my own job. This was really interesting, and I felt like I learned a lot more than I would otherwise about the kinds of suppliers and services involved in libraryland as a whole. Although I’m not in a position to buy anything from many of them, it was a good learning experience – and I picked u a couple of things to pass on to colleagues who may be interested too.

Final thoughts

I was hugely impressed by the conference overall. I was also interested to see the launch of the CILIP Impact Toolkit on the final day – although I did wonder if it would have given more opportunity for discussion and exploration of the tool if it had been introduced at the start, perhaps with a Fringe session to explore the toolkit and share ideas.

I’m glad I attended the conference. Although I didn’t take away quite as many practical ideas as I did from SLA, and some points felt slightly repetitive (but perhaps necessarily so – I feel like we’ve been told we need to get ourselves out of the library for years, but then I think there’s so many of us who don’t take this advice that it’s probably a useful reminder!), overall I left feeling inspired by and reconnected to the information profession. Which ultimately, I think is the mark of a good conference 🙂

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2 comments on “CILIP 2015: learning points and reflections

  1. […] right level of enthusiasm in 140 characters less a hashtag, although @WoodsieGirl has got some fantastic notes up on her blog, together with links to a Storify of the two […]

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