Reflections from LILAC 2016

Last week I was lucky to be able to attend the LILAC conference in Dublin. For those not in the know, LILAC is an annual information literacy conference, run by CILIP’s Information Literacy Group.

I was really excited for LILAC, as I’ve been hearing about it from the many librarians I know and follow on Twitter for many years, but I’ve never been able to attend. It was a really full-on three days, with plenty of interesting workshops, talks and some fantastic keynotes! As usual, I took notes via Twitter throughout so have gathered them all together in Storify, if anyone wants to know a bit more about what actually happened…

Here are my main learning points and reflections from the conference…

Appropriately colour-themed foliage on the UCD campus for LILAC 2016!

Learning through play

Playful learning was a key theme of the conference, most notably in the awesome keynote on Day One and the Lagadothon on Day Two of course! Playful learning is a concept I’ve been aware of for a while (I could hardly not be, working with Andrew Walsh!), but have always struggled with how to incorporate it into my teaching. I’ve had some success using games in small seminar groups, but the majority of my teaching takes place in large lecture theatres (often with students who, to put it mildly, aren’t thrilled to be there and don’t react well to being asked to do things!). I’ve always sort of assumed that trying to use creative/playful approaches in that sort of environment is a bit of a non-starter, and that they simply wouldn’t work in a lecture theatre with 100+ people.

Well, the day one keynote certainly proved me wrong there! Nicola Whitton and Alex Moseley got the whole place participating in a series of learning games – the atmosphere was great, really buzzing, and most of us got involved. I was sat pretty close to the front though, so I do wonder how much of that energy reached all the way to the back, but I’d say it was very successful from where I was sat!

There were also plenty of other playful approaches explored throughout the conference. The Lagadothon (if you’re wondering about the name, as I was, it’s taken from the fictional city of Lagado, home to a thriving if rather odd scientific community, as described in Gulliver’s Travels) was a great opportunity to explore some games for teaching – I particularly enjoyed Jenny Pacheco’s Better Informed Bibliography Game, and Kathryn Ballard’s CRAP! card game.

Eileen Wright’s talk on how she uses information literacy activities in her classes was also full of great ideas, some of which I will definitely be stealing! I particularly liked the idea of getting students to mind-map a music video, to illustrate related concepts, broader and narrower terms and get them thinking about how to narrow down a research topic.

Embedded IL

There were some great examples of information literacy being embedded within modules, assignments or within the student experience. For example, I was very impressed by Paul Verlander and Jo Kennedy’s talk about an assessment they’ve embedded within an Engineering module assessment at the University of Chester. They’ve managed to argue for introducing an assessed component as they teach four two-hour sessions on the module (impressive in itself – I’m lucky to get a single one-hour session with my students!), which accounts for 10% of the teaching on the module, so they successfully argued that they should introduce an assessment that accounts for 10% of the grade. Rather than make it a standalone assessment (i.e. just something extra that students have to do!) it forms an integral part of the overall assessment for the module. I really like this idea, and will have to think about how I could go about arguing for something similar in the modules I support.

I was also very taken by the two sessions run by the librarians and student workers from the University of Manchester, on developing a student-led program of peer support. Working with student employees to help deliver our programs is something I’ve wanted to try to introduce for a while, so it was very interesting to see how Manchester have gone about this and the challenges and successes they’ve had. It was also great to see the students themselves there participating in delivering the talk and workshop!


More than one speaker referenced the fact that YouTube is apparently the most visited destination from Google by students and graduates, who are often looking for how-to information and instructional guides. This made me realise that although at our library we do put some stuff on YouTube, we probably don’t use it as much as we could – and I’m sure we’ve got lots of out of date stuff on our channel that really ought to come down! So one project I’ve got earmarked for the summer is to “audit” our YouTube channel, see what’s being used and what isn’t, and what needs to be either removed or updated.

I’d like to start using YouTube more myself as a teaching channel. I use quite a lot of videos in my teaching, usually those created by other libraries or institutions so it’s sometimes hard to find a video that says exactly what I need to get across, so I’d like to spend some time this summer making a few of my own. I also think I could use it to answer some commonly asked questions – either through screencasts, explanation videos or maybe a regular “you asked…” video series.

I’m inspired by my colleague Jess’ video diaries from LILAC – what a great way of doing an immediate reflection! I’m not sure how well that would work for me personally as a reflection tool, as I often find I need to have a bit of distance from an event or conversation before I can really work out what I think about it (one of many reasons this blog post has taken me a week to write…), but I do think the immediacy of it would complement my approach of live-tweeting my notes.

I did have a go while at the conference of recording a quick video on my phone, as part of the Information Literacy Group’s #whyinfolit competition. It’s really easy to enter – you just need to record a one minute video explaining why information literacy is important in your sector, and either upload it to YouTube or send it to ilwebeditors@gmail.com. Entries will go into a prize draw for £100! And if you’re camera shy you don’t have to record yourself speaking like I did – there’s a couple of videos entered already that have used animation instead.

Critical literacy

The final theme that really struck me from the conference was around critical thinking and questioning skills. This came up a lot in Char Booth’s kick-ass keynote (which I’m not going to attempt to summarise here! You can see my fangirlish tweets on Storify, and I would highly recommend checking out her gorgeous slides on Slideshare), which gave me a ton of ideas including:

  • teach students to not just evaluate, but edit Wikipedia
  • introduce the concept of “information privilege” – highlight how much universities (and students!) are paying for scholarly information that’s only available within the institution
  • invest in Open Educational Resources to help share some of that information privilege around

I was also very interested in Alison Head’s talk on the lifelong learning of graduates – in particular by one finding of her research, that most graduates were surprised to find that they had to continue learning after finishing university! That was a real shock to me, as it seems obvious from my point of view that of course you don’t stop learning once you finish formal education, but then having considered it I’m not so surprised. I think our education system today is so transactional, that perhaps for students it does feel like learning is a discrete activity that only happens in educational institutions.

I was less surprised by another finding from Alison’s research, that most graduates did not feel that they had gained questioning skills from university – and I was even less surprised to find out that engineering and computing graduates were least likely to say they’d gained these skills from their studies! Alison read out a particularly telling quote from an engineering graduate, saying that at university all their work was geared towards solving problems, but the solutions were always known (either by their lecturers or within the textbooks they were using) so he felt they graduated completely unprepared for coming up with their own solutions rather than trying to find the “right” answer. This all underlined for me how vital it is that we as librarians encourage critical thinking, rather than just teaching basic database searching skills as we are often expected to do.


So those are my main takeaways! There’s loads more I could have said here but I’ve already rambled on for 1500 words so I think I’ll leave it there. LILAC was an absolutely fantastic conference, and I’m so glad I got the chance to go. Roll on LILAC 2017!

Save the date for #lilac17!




3 comments on “Reflections from LILAC 2016

  1. Just to note I was at the back of the lecture theatre for that first keynote and can confirm that the energy did reach the back row of seats. Lots of engagement and interaction.

  2. Thanks for blogging this Laura, it’s really helpful! Glad you enjoyed it.

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