Libraries, the universe and everything

Library camp in Manchester
February 6, 2012, 12:36
Filed under: CPD, Events | Tags:

On Saturday 28th January I attended the #libcampnw event in Manchester. I missed the first library camp last year and thought it sounded like a fantastic event, so when I saw this one advertised I rushed to book my space and my train tickets. Of course as soon as I’d handed over the cash I discovered that another library camp was taking place much closer to home, but actually it was a great opportunity to meet some different people (although I did travel up with two other London librarians of my acquaintance!) and put some more faces to Twitter names. 
I attended three sessions and presented a fourth, and was disappointed not to be able to attend more – in particular I think all of the ones which clashed with mine were things I’d like to have gone to! I didn’t take many notes as mostly I was too busy listening, thinking and chipping in my views, so what follows is a brief round-up of the things I did jot down and some reflection from my train journey afterwards. So far I’ve come across three other accounts of the event, though I’m sure there are more out there…

Session 1 – Marketing
Pitched by the fabulously enthusiastic Richard, this circled around issues of marketing public libraries in particular. Discussion covered the need to promote services to people who tend not to use public libraries so much (eg. 18-30 year olds); how to go about evaluating the impact/success of marketing campaigns; using visible external advertising eg. billboards and taxis; the need to get communications/design staff onside; the importance of audience research; being clear about what a particular piece of marketing is actually trying to achieve; co-opting loyal enthusiasts as ambassadors; doing small things yourself – eg. visiting community groups. Someone also mentioned the OCLC project to create a union catalogue of Britain’s public library holdings.

Session 2 – CILIP’s Body of Professional Knowledge
Led by Bethan and Liz, this was a structured and interactive discussion about the BPK – whether CILIP actually needs one, what it should look like/do, and how it could do that. We were asked to answer the following three questions on post-its, discuss them with the few people around us, and then feed into a whole group discussion:

  • What does BPK mean to you?
  • What do you want the revised version to do?
  • How will it (the revised version) meet your needs?

As it happened my small discussion group shared broadly the same views – that the BPK needs to be meaningful and practially-applicable, and that there ought to be some kind of formal CPD system for Chartered librarians, perhaps based on the lawyers’ model.  In the wider discussion there was much dissent and disagreement amongst us all, and personally I found the debate stimulating and interesting – it was great to hear some views which were totally opposite to my own, and a few things I hadn’t previously considered either. I hope Liz and Bethan managed to get some useful material out of us, and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how the project progresses.

Session 3 – Staff training 
Led by Carolin, this was meant to include internal communications too (which was actually why I chose it), but the person who was going to talk about internal comms decided to attend a different session instead! That said, I found it a really lively and interesting session, so I was glad I stayed put. The main issue was how to get training approved when there isn’t any budget available, and I noted down the following top tips:

  • apply for bursaries to attend conferences etc – there are lots available and not that many people tend to apply
  • join your local CILIP branch and make use of special interest groups too
  • keep an eye out for free training – whether via branch/groups or online eg. 23 things
  • identify courses/events which would be genuinely valuable for you to attend and make a proper business case for the funding – even if unsuccessful this approach is likely to impress, so you might be lucky the next time round
  • own your appraisal process – be proactive about identifying your training needs and identify suitable courses/events if possible
  • apply to present at conferences – often this enables you to attend other sessions for free. Offering to help out, live-tweet sessions etc. can also work.

As a more senior staff member, offering to run refresher training for other staff can be helpful, though needs to be done at a time when people will want to attend (eg. during work hours, not evenings/lunch breaks). External trainers really like it if a group approaches them with a course need, venue and participants already in mind – whether this is workplace based or via a branch/group – and if they don’t have to organise a venue, advertise the course, etc. this keeps the costs down all round.

Session 4 – Special collections and social media
I pitched this session and, whilst I did enjoy doing it, for some reason it didn’t come off as I’d anticipated. I had given it quite a bit of thought beforehand, but was slightly derailed by the fact that the people who turned up were rather different to those I’d expected – instead of being a ‘come and find stuff out’ session it ended up being more about people asking me what we do in my workplace and offering suggestions for improvement. So whilst it was a really useful experience for me, I’m not really sure what anyone else got out of it… Plus it was a fairly small group, and the last session of the day. Mostly I was too busy listening, thinking and talking to write anything down, but I did note that Flickr is a really good way to promote in-house image collections, and that engaging with people on Twitter (replying, retweeting etc) is the best way to build communities and generate reciprocal support.

Organisationally-speaking, if you’re going to do social media you need to have a social media policy and make sure everyone involved knows about it and accords by it. There are lots of these out there, so if you need to create one from scratch have a look around and see which ones make the most sense! We also heard about a collaboration between Wikipedia and the John Rylands library – Wikipedia is actively engaging with institutions in order to improve the quality of its content, and the discoverability benefits for the institution (and its library/archive collections, in this case) can be huge. 

As a participant I really enjoyed the unconference format, but as a facilitator/presenter/pitcher I felt rather out of control. Perhaps bizarrely, this has made me more keen to present at events in future, but preferably in a more formal conference setting! Whilst I know I benefited from ‘my’ session I really don’t know if anyone else did, and I had no way of knowing whether any of their expectations were being met. Maybe I should have started by going round the group and asking everyone what their interest in the session was – with a larger audience this would have been dreadful but with the numbers there I think it might have worked well, and would have given me a bit more of a handle on it all. I also wasn’t sure how best to draw in people who weren’t contributing – were they happy to just listen or should I have taken more responsiblity for getting them to speak out?

All in all, a useful and interesting afternoon, with new contacts made and lots of tasty cake consumed. I’ve now got an action list of 3 or 4 take-home points from the sessions, and a ‘must do better’ for my presentation skills, so plenty to work on!

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Your thoughts on the experience of the facilitator/pitcher echo my own. I’d been a library camp before so had an idea of how things would work but running a session was more challenging than I’d expected. You can try to plan how you want it to go but how it works in reality is partly determined by the people who turn up and what they want to talk about.

With my session, I wanted to learn more about something and thankfully the people who came to it were the people with experience and knowledge as I’d hoped. I had prepared some ideas but was hoping my session would be other people sharing their knowledge with me. If everyone who turned up hadn’t known much about the subject then I might have struggled.


Comment by theatregrad

Thanks for commenting Laura, I think this is exactly why I’m now keen to try doing a more formal presentation somewhere, although I guess the sheer-chance element of the unconference format is what makes it fun!


Comment by Emma Davidson

Hope you didn’t feel too derailed :0

Special collections and social media – see:

Marketing session: the OCLC project was mentioned by @misswizzie of OCLC.


Comment by Simon Bains (@simonjbains)

Many thanks for the links Simon, and for filling in my OCLC gap! I think a little derailment is no bad thing, and will certainly inform the next time I put myself up for something like this 🙂


Comment by Emma Davidson

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