12 October 2011

Library Camp 2011 - can we do that again please?

The sponsor's display - with artistic addition!
On the 8th October I joined over 150 other librarians, information professional and fellow enthusiasts in Birmingham for Library Camp UK 2011. The event had been a sell out within a few hours of the ticket release and originally I had not got a place. Luckily for me a few last minute dropouts meant I got a place with a week to go.

I was intrigued by the unconference style of the event. Basically people could suggest ideas on the wiki before the event, but the timetable would only be set on the day after people had pitched their idea in the introductory session. They then placed the topic in a slot on the blank timetable of the day. Once all those interested in facilitating a session had pitched their idea there was a short break for coffee and cake. The cakes deserve a mention in their own right - many delegates had baked a cake to bring to the event and the selection was amazing. Even the sponsors got in on the act with Swets putting on a photogenic display of cupcakes!

It was at this stage that people could choose the sessions they would like to attend. I really loved the informality of the event – and I particularly liked the fact that the sessions took the form of discussions between the participants. As a result I got much more out of them than the usual presenter/audience style of session. One picked up good ideas and made many useful contacts this way. I also loved the way that each session grew out of those present – giving them all a unique flavour.

Which to choose?
For the first session I chose cataloguing. It was good to have a mix of novice and ‘expert’ cataloguers, and also system librarians who could give us different viewpoints on how data is used. Useful also to hear how different establishments approached cataloguing and people’s thoughts on what users want out of the records.

My favourite session of the day was on Special Collections - this really illustrated how the mix of people in a session led the discussion. Laura (@theatregrad) started the session by giving a brief outline of her dissertation. The discussion then moved onto whether digitising collections and putting them online was a good idea if this meant it raised people’s expectations of being able to come and see the original article (the consensus was yes, as it gave many more people a chance to see it in some form, and one could put ‘disclaimers’ on the site to the effect that access to the original article was limited). The comment was also made that access to special collections online can raise not only the profile of the library, but also the parent establishment as well – this can in turn raise the profile of the library within the establishment. Equally it was pointed out that one can find out useful related information on collections once the information on it is available more widely and researchers studying related areas can provide useful information.

The discussion then moved onto a commercial company who have records that are virtually unused, but which are of potential interest to others. Many useful and interesting suggestions were made  - from accessing the reprographic equipment of a local university, to seeing if a local institution would house the whole collection (with advice on how to chose a suitable institution should there be a choice). It was also pointed out that housing the collection elsewhere could benefit both the company by having smaller insurance costs, and the researcher who could conceivably view several related collections in one visit.

After lunch I attended the session on “Learning from Retail”
I was familiar with some of the basic concepts, such as don’t put items you wish people to look at/browse in the ‘landing zone’ – do put information /displays in areas where people will have to queue anyway. However it was good to hear how people do this in practice, and also to pick up some information on more background reading, and companies that specialize in this area. I loved the idea of making ‘moveable’ zones – as users needs may vary throughout the year (e.g. quiet in exam time). There was an interesting discussion on cafes within libraries  - which should be seen as “learning coffee spaces” it was suggested (i.e. an integral part of the experience not an add-on). It was also pointed out that cafes within meant that users did not have to leave the building, so avoiding the scenario of students leaving for a coffee and not returning.

The importance of  staff backing changes was stressed  - for example leaving newly returned books on the trolley in public view encourages people to borrow as they are attracted to what others have just borrowed – however this relies on the staff not shelving them too soon. Training also needs to be ongoing to allow for staff changes. And the closing thought – “just try it”.

The penultimate session I attended was on collaboration – and where the library/information service sits within an organisation. Some people said they are invited to meetings withing the organisation which raises their profile (introductions by senior managers etc – can help raise the standing of the information professional amongst those attending). However it was also stressed that collaboration did not need to be formal – for example joining the committee for an organisation's charity event could be equally effective.

Another way of raising profile is taking the service out to the customer – for example in the Judge Business School where the Information Service ‘sets up shop’ in communal areas.  This attracts people who might not go to them otherwise, and lets others know about the services they provide.

Personalisation of the service ("Sue can help", rather than "the library can help"), and outgoing personalities were suggested as useful attributes when  trying to sell the embedded model. The benefits were felt to be worth the effort – making the service ‘business critical’ being a worthwhile achievement in the current economic climate.

My last session of the day was with the founders of #uklibchat. I had been aware of the fortnightly chats on Twitter, but had not as yet joined in any. It was interesting to hear their plans and listen to discussion of how the idea had developed and is developing. I now feel inspired to join the conversations.

After the final get together people were loathe to go their separate ways. Various groups went for drinks or food – I joined a group at a coffee shop, as by now the very early start was starting to tell and alcohol did not seem like a good idea!  Needless to say the chatting continued till we had to catch our trains.

The format of the day was brilliant – I really appreciated the discussions – and the people at the event really made it a success. I have never been great at networking – usually only talking to those I already know. However the friendliness and camaraderie was amazing. Virtually all the time between session and before and after the event I was talking to people that I did not know, or knew only through Twitter. Everyone made me feel welcome. I left the event completely invigorated (though physically exhausted!!), and look forward to #libcampuk12. The organisers deserve a medal for putting on such a successful and enjoyable event – (and I suspect a long rest!!!).


  1. Thanks for summing the sessions up that you attended, as I only made it to the retail one out of those. It's interesting to see how similar ideas came up again and again.

  2. Thanks :)

    ... and also interesting the way we all took something different away from the sessions.