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Reflection on UK vs US library conferences

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The first image that came up when I searched for “British American flags” on Pixabay!

Over the past 6-7 years, I’ve been lucky enough to attend numerous LIS conferences. In the early days this was largely due to my policy of applying for every student/new professional conference award in sight – I would highly recommend this approach!

In addition to various UK-based conferences (such as CILIP, UKSG, BIALL, and more recently, LILAC), I’ve also managed to attend the SLA (Special Libraries Association) conference in the USA on a few occasions.

Attending an international conference is undoubtedly a different experience to a domestic conference. You’re likely to be travelling longer distances for a start, and potentially visiting a place where the language and culture may be very different to what you’re used to. Thinking about the conferences I’ve attended, there are some notable differences between the UK-based and US-based ones.

With the large caveat that the only US conference I’ve attended is SLA (so I don’t know how many of my observations apply to other US conferences such as ALA), I thought it might be interesting to reflect on some of the differences I’ve observed between conferences in the two countries, and what that might tell us about the professions in these countries.

Size and scale

While I still had this post in draft, I asked on Twitter what people who’d attended both thought were the main differences between US and UK conferences. Unsurprisingly, the first few replies I got mentioned the sheer size of US conferences!

This is probably unsurprising given it’s such a huge country, but conferences in the US are on a scale unheard of in the UK. I’d be interested to know how other international conferences around the world, such as IFLA, compare for scale.

The size of the SLA conference means that there are a huge amount of sessions, meetings and social events all going on at the same time. And the venues are enormous, so when planning what sessions to attend you may need to factor in a 20 minute walk between rooms! This all feels very different to a UK conference, where there may only be two or three parallel sessions in adjacent rooms.

Attitude – optimism, networking, celebration

Another big difference I’ve noticed is in attitude and atmosphere. The SLA conferences I’ve attended have been bubbling over with optimism and celebration. The opening session, at which awards and honours are presented, feels like being at the library Oscars! It’s hard to describe this without sounding like I’m criticising UK librarians and conferences, which is very much not my intention. But I think while we do celebrate the profession and our colleagues at UK library conferences, it’s nowhere near the kind of full-throated roar of enthusiasm that you get at SLA – and, so I understand, other US conferences.

I’m certain this isn’t all in my mind: others on Twitter mentioned the “sense of occasion” that SLA has, and I clearly remember exchanging astonished, delighted glances with my fellow ECCAs at the completely unselfconscious glee of the award presenters and recipients, and audience, at my first SLA in 2009. I also remember assuring other ECCAs in later years that yes, it was always like that, and yes, that enthusiasm would be sustained throughout the conference!

I’m probably just exposing my own British repression here, but there is something incredibly refreshing about being at a place where everyone is celebrating their shared goals and achievements, and no one feels the need to apologise for their own enthusiasm. I think we do aim for this at UK conferences, and I’ve certainly come away from some just as inspired as I was at SLA (LILAC springs to mind as being the closest in atmosphere that I’ve found this side of the Atlantic), but I always feel like there’s this undertow of not wanting to get too full of ourselves, not wanting to stand up and say “Yes, I did this and it was BRILLIANT!”.

There’s also less general moaning at SLA: I feel like the American default is optimism, whereas the British default is cynicism, which does lend itself to a lot of slightly world-weary conversations at UK conferences. I don’t actually think this is a bad thing – boundless optimism can be exhausting to be around, and I think it’s good to be realistic about the problems we face. But it’s notable what a difference that change in focus makes to the overall atmosphere at something like a conference.

Distances travelled

America is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is… (with apologies to Douglas Adams!). So although coming from the UK to the US feels like a really long journey, depending on where exactly in that vast country you’re visiting, there may be people there who’ve travelled further than you within the same country to be there.

Because the distances are so vast, an annual conference like SLA is often the only time that many people there, who may have known and worked with each other remotely for years, actually get to see each other and interact face-to-face. This can sometimes give SLA a bit of the feeling of a big family reunion – which is no bad thing!

I assume for similar reasons, SLA’s divisions and chapters usually have their business meetings at the conference, as well as things like awards presentations. Which makes total sense given the difficulty otherwise of getting enough of the Board and membership of each division together, but feels rather strange to an outsider to see that many committee meetings etc. on the conference schedule. It also means that if you’re volunteering with a couple of divisions, you could easily spend most of your conference at meetings and miss a lot of the actual conference programming.

Range of topics covered

Due to the size and scale of SLA, and the diverse experiences and interests of its members, it has a more varied programme than I’ve seen at any UK conference. This may be partly down to the way the conference is organised: session planning is done by each of the individual chapters and divisions, rather than being managed centrally. (Although there was talk about changing this process at the last SLA I attended, in 2015, so I don’t know if this is still the case.)

The size of the conference and variety of programming means there is always something of interest, regardless of what your job entails. It also means that you can be chatting to another delegate over lunch or at a social event, and have had totally different conference experiences.

Conference etiquette

One large difference between UK and US conferences is conference etiquette. At SLA (and, I believe, other conferences), it is completely acceptable to get up and walk out of a session you’re in. I would never in a million years do this at a UK conference, and as a speaker I’d probably be distraught if anyone did this in my session! So it took some getting used to at SLA.

It helped me to understand the reasons behind this: SLA is such a huge conference, with such a large variety of sessions going on simultaneously, that it is impossible to make it to everything you might want to hear. So if you’re in a session that isn’t working for you, it is acceptable, and even encouraged, to go somewhere else where you’ll benefit more. Having adjusted to this, I actually find this attitude really refreshing – why should you waste your time in a session that you’re not getting anything out of?

It’s also useful to remember that walking out of a session isn’t necessarily a negative judgment on the speaker. There are many reasons you might want to leave a session, including but not limited to:

  • The session isn’t quite what you expected (e.g. doesn’t really match the title/description, or is pitched either to basic or too complex for your needs)
  • You’re struggling to hear/see the speaker and/or presentation (poor acoustics, room layout, and crimes against PowerPoint are all sadly still common everywhere!)
  • It’s a session with multiple speakers and you were most interested in hearing one of them
  • It overlaps with another session you’re interested in, so you’re timing your attendance to try to make both
  • You’ve been following another session that looks more relevant to you via Twitter – this is one of the reasons I love live-tweeting conference sessions!

Social side

All conferences are a chance not just to learn, but to network and have fun! I’ve never been to a conference on either side of the Atlantic where the social events weren’t just as much part of the event as the daytime conference sessions.

The main difference is that because UK conferences are smaller, there tends to be just one main conference event (usually something like a gala dinner), or maybe two (one each evening) if it’s a multi-day conference. At SLA, rather than one main social event for the whole conference, there are multiple smaller events run by the different divisions and chapters, and sometimes by sponsors and exhibitors. These include breakfasts, lunches, “open houses” (evening networking events), no-host dinners (informal get-togethers at local restaurants, where everyone pays for their own food), karaoke nights, and of course the infamous IT Division dance party!

This means that there isn’t generally one event where everyone is in attendance, which can feel a little fragmented and make it feel a bit difficult to just turn up if you don’t know many people there.

I have to say that personally, I’ve always found SLA really friendly and welcoming – they have dedicated events for first-timers, and have been running a buddy system for newcomers for the past few years. But I get that with the scale of an event like this, it can feel daunting as a newcomer.

Conclusion

Overall, I think there are more similarities than differences between UK and US LIS conferences. Wherever the conference happens to be, you will find dedicated information professionals, passionate about their work and eager to meet, work with and learn from others in the field. Being aware of some of the structural and cultural differences in attending conferences in different parts of the world will help you know what to expect, and make the most out of being there.

As was pointed out on Twitter, the fall in value of the pound may mean that there are fewer opportunities for UK delegates to attend US conferences. And of course, the actions of the current US administration will undoubtedly have an impact on the number of overseas delegates able or willing to travel to the US for such events.

I started drafting this blog post before the election of the current President, and long before the attempts were made to block people from Muslim-majority nations from travelling to the US. I was therefore in two minds about whether to publish this post: I have decided to do so, but with this note added.

There is a call for international researchers, academics and librarians to boycott conferences held in the US, in solidarity with those who are prevented from attending on the basis of the crude and discriminatory measures attempted by the current administration: I believe it’s a matter of conscience whether or not you choose to participate in such a boycott, and I would not judge a fellow professional for deciding to travel to the US regardless of this, but I think it’s important for us all to examine our privilege and our consciences on this matter.privilege and our consciences on this matter.

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Library conference topic ideas

I’ve been invited to join the conference planning committee for London Info International, which takes place in December. Here’s last year’s programme, for reference.

I’m going to an initial planning meeting on Monday 6th March, and we’ve been asked to come along with topic suggestions: things we are excited about, or worried about, or want to learn more about.

So I thought I’d cheat a bit and ask around for ideas! What would you like to see covered at a library conference? Anything you’d especially like to talk about, or hear about? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me @woodsiegirl. All suggestions welcome!

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Reflections on copyright in academic vs commercial sectors

Note: the below was originally drafted as a short reflection to go in my Chartership portfolio. After asking on Twitter I thought a few people might be interested to see it, so I redrafted it as a blog post. Enjoy!

Having spent much of my career in ‘special’/workplace libraries, when I moved to the academic sector in 2014 I was interested to see how the situation with regard to copyright compliance differed. Here are a few reflections on the differences and similarities I have found in the past couple of years in this role.

Copyright reasons, by gaelx on Flickr, shared under CC BY-SA 2.0

Copyright reasons, by gaelx on Flickr, shared under CC BY-SA 2.0

Background

The types of libraries I have worked in are as follows:

  • Legal institute (mix of commercial use and private study), 2007-08
  • Commercial law firm #1, 2009-10
  • Commercial law firm #2, 2011-12
  • Charity, 2013-14
  • University library, 2014-present

At commercial law firm #2, I was for a brief period (before I left) the Copyright Licences Officer. At the charity, I was the only information professional in the organisation and the only person with any knowledge about copyright and information law (leading to me spotting some potential data protection breaches the charity was at risk of making, but that’s a story for another time…)

At the University, I don’t have any specific responsibility for copyright, but am regularly asked questions about it by lecturers and other library users, and I do a little basic copyright education in the course of my information literacy and library skills teaching.

The similarities

Probably the main similarity I’ve found across all workplaces is in the level of ignorance of (and in some cases, indifference to) copyright and IP law: certainly among library users (whether colleagues in commercial or charitable workplaces, or students and academic staff in education settings), but also in some cases among library staff themselves.

It is our job as information professionals to educate users on copyright and ensure compliance. However this is difficult to do when, in my experience, some information professionals feel uncertain of how to advise on what can be a complex area. As Jane Secker and Chris Morrison’s UK copyright literacy survey found, there is good basic awareness of copyright among professionals in UK information, cultural and heritage institutions, but a clear need for copyright education to support professionals “grappling with an increasingly complex international copyright regime”.

For many library users copyright is, when they think about it at all, seen as an inconvenient barrier preventing them from doing what they want with information. This forces librarians to be the “copyright police”, a role I certainly feel uncomfortable with, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. As an information professional, my instinct is to want to help people do what they need, so having to tell people they can’t do things goes against the grain somewhat. This was particularly the case in the commercial sector, where there are very few exceptions we could make use of – it feels less of an issue for me in the academic sector, for reasons I’ll discuss below.

The differences

Copyright in the commercial sector was in some ways considerably easier than in the academic sector, largely because there are very few exceptions to be aware of. As long as our licences were up to date and we knew what they permitted, it was fairly easy to know what we were and weren’t allowed to do. Essentially, advising on whether or not something could be used legally boiled down to “are you prepared to pay for it”. The difficulty came in enforcing this.

As discussed above, library users in all sectors either don’t think about copyright at all, or consider it a nuisance at best. This did feel like a worse problem in the commercial and charity sectors than in academia: in my experience, attitudes ranged from simple ignorance (assuming things didn’t apply to them), to dismissal, to outright hostility. I was once told by a lawyer colleague that “It doesn’t matter, it’s only copyright” – the implication being that it wasn’t like “real” law!

The best way I found to counter that was by clarifying the risks involved: law firms are highly risk-averse, as are charities, so giving concrete examples of the potential consequences (e.g. levels of fines that could be incurred) was generally effective at convincing that copyright is, in fact, a real law!

Although I find the range of exceptions and licences I need to be aware of in an academic setting more complex, the big advantage to information professionals in this sector is that you have a much bigger team backing you up. In my commercial and charity roles, I was either part of a very small team, or the sole information professional employed. Particularly in the charity where I was on my own, this left me with very little back-up when arguing the case for copyright compliance. In the University I am part of an enormous (compared to where I’ve worked before!) library team, including more than one person with detailed knowledge of our copyright licences and the copyright permissions and exceptions that apply to academic work.

It is still difficult in some cases to get library users to care about copyright, and we still have to be the “copyright police” from time to time (e.g. telling students and lecturers why they can’t just reproduce any image they’ve found on Google Images!). But because there are more ways to encourage academic users to use copyrighted material legally, I feel less of a jobsworth doing so. There are also opportunities in an academic setting for educating library users about their own copyright – particularly when talking to researchers who are looking to publish. I’ve found that highlighting the worth of their own copyright can make it easier to emphasise why they should respect others’ copyright.

Just as I was finishing off this post and getting ready to publish it, I happened to see this article by Jane Secker in UKSG’s eNews, about copyright literacy for librarians, and it chimed really well with some of the thoughts I’ve had on this. Jane’s argument is that many librarians fear copyright partly due to worry about getting it wrong, but also potentially due to a lingering perception that copyright is all about preventing people from doing things rather than enabling them, contrary to the librarian’s role in facilitating information use. I think that’s a really interesting point, and I’ve certainly felt happier dealing with copyright in a setting where there are more ways to enable people to use copyrighted material legally.

Conclusion

In all the sectors in which I’ve worked, copyright has presented its own challenges. The major crossover is in the need for copyright education aimed at both library users and library staff, the latter needing support for dealing with this sometimes complex topic.

Overall the main difference across sectors seems to be in attitude and scale. In the commercial sector copyright awareness is limited to ensuring the right boxes are ticked and bills paid. While it may be mainly viewed as a nuisance, actually enforcing copyright compliance is reasonably straightforward.

By contrast, copyright in the academic sector is often more complex, but also more flexible. There is also more support for library staff in this area, and larger teams of people to consult with and back up decisions.

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2016 Professional Development Review

I’ve just realised that despite my resolution to blog regularly, I only managed one post last year, and that was in April! It was about attending the LILAC conference, which still feels like it was about 5 minutes ago, so I guess the year went pretty fast…

There’s various reasons for my blogging silence, some personal, but I think these are the two big ones:

  1. A very busy year at work leaving me with next to no down-time for blogging and other reflection
  2. My old friend Horace whispering at me that nothing I have to write about will be of interest to anyone

The first one isn’t very easy to tackle: work isn’t likely to get much less busy any time soon! But I think I need to be more diligent about carving out time for myself to reflect, whether by blogging or some other form. For various reasons I’ve spent the past year feeling like I’ve barely kept my head above water, so time for reflection really fell by the wayside. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I think it’s been a mistake. Reflection is really important to me, not only for my personal and professional development, but also for my mental health.

The second one is a perennial problem for me, as I suspect it is for many of us! I’ve just had a quick Twitter conversation with a few people about this, and been reminded that it doesn’t really matter if anyone else is interested, as long as it’s useful to me. DrBattyTowers just summed this up very nicely:

So, without making any definite targets that will only upset me if/when I fail to meet them, I am going to make an effort to give myself time to reflect this year. This may involve blogging more frequently (and I do have a couple of things I’d like to blog about, including some of my personal lessons learned from line managing a team over the past year), or may just mean giving myself private time and space to reflect.

To kick things off, I thought I’d do a quick review of my professional development over the past year. I did this last year and found it really beneficial to look back over the previous 12 months and remind myself of everything I’d done – it’s easy to forget otherwise!

In no particular order, here’s some of what I did in 2016:

  • Attended my first ever LILAC conference
  • Took over as Secretary of the Information Literacy Group
  • Helped judge various awards for the SLA Engineering and Sci-Tech Divisions
  • Completed a First Line Managers course at work
  • Created some training and induction videos
  • Co-wrote an article for SCONUL Focus
  • Spoke at an USTLG meeting regarding some online resources I’d created

I don’t really have any big, grand plans for 2017, other than to take better care of myself. For that reason I’m not going to set any specific professional development goals for the next year, as I’ve found that at this time for me, doing so is more harmful than helpful. I do have things that I want to achieve, but I also have a tendency to think I must DO all the THINGS or else I have FAILED. So I’m just going to say: here’s to a happier, healthier and kinder 2017.

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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!

YouTube!

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!

 

 

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2015: professional development review

So, I have half an hour left of my last working day of 2015, my desk is about as tidy as it’s ever going to get… So I think I’ve got time for a quick reflection on how the year has gone!

Mainly, it’s gone…fast. It doesn’t seem five minutes since I was writing my professional goals for the year back in January! I loved Michelle Bond’s blog post on sharing the awesome things you did during the year, so I thought I’d close off the year here by listing a few things I’ve done/achieved in my professional life in 2015…

  • I did lots of fun stuff with the social media accounts at work, including a celebration of National Libraries Day in February and a library tips “advent calendar” throughout December
  • Supervised two Chinese students from the School of Education, who did a work placement with the library in January-March
  • Completed a City & Guilds Level 3 award in teaching and learning at Northern College in June
  • Attended the SLA conference in Boston, on the Bonnie Hilditch International Librarian Award (applications for next year close soon, btw!)
  • Attended the CILIP conference in Liverpool
  • Spoke at the CILIP Yorkshire & Humberside and UKeIG joint members day in July – my first professional speaking gig for a long time!
  • Took over line management of a team of library assistants in September
  • Delivered a joint workshop with a colleague at the Relationship Management in HE Libraries conference in November
  • Generally learned lots and did lots of new things in my first full year as a subject librarian in an HE library!

Wow, when I list it out like that it actually does look like a lot! It’s useful sometimes to look back and remember what you’ve done over the course of a year. Some of it feels so long ago now!

I’d also like to review how my goals for 2015 went. On first glance, I’ve achieved most of them I think…

  1. Blog at least once per month – I didn’t exactly manage this, there were a few months when I didn’t blog at all, but I’ve written 16 blog posts this year (17 including this one), so I’ve averaged out at more than one per month across the year!
  2. Make some new professional contacts – I’ve definitely achieved this! I’ve gone to lots of networking events, conferences etc. this year and spoken at a few. It’s been interesting going to more HE-specific library events as I am meeting people outside of my existing circle of contacts. I’ve also recently joined the CILIP Information Literacy Group committee, which is bringing me into contact with yet more awesome library people!
  3. Undertake some formal professional development – I think my Level 3 Teaching & Learning certificate definitely counts as this! I’m really proud of this achievement, and would like to continue to build on it.

So, how about 2016? Here are my goals for the coming year:

  1. Continue to blog regularly, and try to post more reflective/questioning posts rather than ones specifically about events I’ve attended.
  2. Submit my chartership portfolio – this is getting ridiculous really, I should have chartered long ago! I’m practically there, I just need to force myself to make the time to actually put it all together and submit.
  3. Submit a proposal to speak at a conference. I’m attending LILAC this year and hopefully one or two others, but I’d like to do more conference speaking. I really enjoyed the Relationship Management conference, and would definitely like to do more of this.

That’s it from me for this year! See you all in 2016 🙂

Feliz Año Nuevo / Happy New Year

‘Feliz Año Nuevo / Happy New Year’ by Ana on Flickr, shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/dG6sAJ

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Relationship Management in HE Libraries conference: reflections

In November I attended the first Relationship Management in HE Libraries conference, in lovely Stirling, Scotland. It’s been a little while since then, i know – a busy month at work means I haven’t had time to blog about it until now!

I tweeted pretty solidly throughout the conference, so if you’re interested in what was discussed I’ve created a Storify of my tweets and favourites from the conference. Rather than go through all the presentations, I thought I’d just pull out my key learning points and reflections from the day.

As well as attending, I also co-delivered a workshop alongside Penny Dunn (@Lady_PGD). Obviously I didn’t tweet through that, but I did vanity-search for tweets after our workshop, so I’ve Storyfied those as well if you want to know what we talked about!

Scotland Wallace Monument From Stirling Castle Summer Wide

‘Scotland Wallace Monument From Stirling Castle Summer Wide’ by Sam Agnew on Flickr, shared under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

What is relationship management?

This was the first question of the day, and one I think we all struggled with – interesting as this was the title of the conference, so you might have assumed that most of us knew what it actually was! There was a lot of discussion around relationship management vs academic liaison. Is there a difference between the two roles? Are they just the same things described in different ways, or is there a tangible progression from one to the other?

We didn’t really come to a common consensus on this, but the discussion was illuminating. It was a good way to open up the conference, and encourage everyone to discuss and reflect on how they saw their roles in libraries.

Personally, I don’t think there’s a huge difference between the two. If anything, I think you could use “liaison” to describe the practical, operational tasks, and “relationship management” to describe the strategic view. However, I do think that runs the risk of implying that relationship management is something only managers do, whereas I think it’s vital to remember that everyone manages relationships.

Are libraries essential?

This question was prompted by the excellent keynote from Ann-Marie Wyness, Customer Service manager at First Direct. (As an aside, I think it was a great idea to have a keynote speaker from outside of the library world – I’d love to see more library conferences do this.) Ann made the point early on in her talk that banking is boring – but so is electricity. There are services that everyone has to use, no one much cares about them, they all essentially do the same thing so they’re difficult to market and differentiate – but people notice straight away if they’re not working well.

There were a few comments on Twitter along the lines that there was a message for libraries here – similarly, we’re often seen as boring and our services are often misunderstood. However, the difference here is that banking is essential in a way that libraries just aren’t. It feels almost a betrayal to say this, but people don’t necessarily need libraries. To stick with the HE sector here (I feel like looking at other sectors from this angle would need a blog post to itself), a student could get all the way through their degree never having used the library, and still pass. They probably wouldn’t do very well, and may have ended up spending lots of money on books that they didn’t need to spend, but it could be done. (For that matter, they could probably get through their degree without attending lectures either – but that’s a bigger issue!)

There was a comment on Twitter that libraries are essential because information is essential, and libraries provide access to information, but I think that’s slightly missing the point. Yes, information is essential, but libraries are not the only provider of information. We’re certainly not the easiest or most convenient way to access information, at least from your typical undergraduate’s point of view! Is the answer to spend all our time and effort on convincing people who don’t see us as essential that we actually are? Or should we accept that there will be people who will never engage with us, and instead focus our efforts on the keen ones who want to come and use the library?

I don’t know the answer here, and I’m not sure there is an easy answer. It’s just food for thought.

Provide the data your users care about

One point that came up repeatedly was that many academic libraries are producing “action plans” for engagement with their schools/department. It seems that this is most successful where the plans are a collaborative effort with the schools, so the library can work with their academics to monitor and report on the kinds of metrics that they are actually interested in, rather than just providing whatever data the library has and hoping it’s relevant.

It probably seems an obvious point, but I hadn’t come across the idea of tailored action plans before (I am still new to the HE sector!) so I was really interested to see the approaches being taken here.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed this conference. Being new to HE libraries, it was great to go to a conference that was solely focused on relationship management in this sector, and to see what everyone else is working on. The atmosphere was great, and the conference as a whole was very well organised.

I did speak to a few people who expressed the opinion that there hadn’t really been many “new” approaches shared, and that lots of what was discussed were things that many libraries have been doing for a few years now. I can’t really comment as to how new any of the approaches were, as they were all new to me! However even if they weren’t especially new, I still think there’s value in sharing how different libraries are implementing similar approaches to shared problems.

The workshop that Penny and I ran went really well, and we’ve had some good follow-up from it too. I would definitely recommend this conference if/when it runs again.