Tuesday 6 November 2012

Library Camp 2012: 13th October, Birmingham

This guest post comes from Charlie Lythgoe (@maniccharlie), Assistant Information Specialist, NHS Blood and Transplant, Oxford, about her experience of the runaway success that is Library Camp UK, which took place last month.  All the more welcome as we had to cancel our November event. Over to Charlie...

On Saturday 13th October, I attended Library Camp 2012 in Birmingham. This is the second year a UK-wide Library Camp has been held, and there have also been smaller regional spin-off events. Library Camp is described as an “unconference”, which their website defines as an event where “participants decide on the programme at the beginning of the event, working on the principle that the sum of the knowledge, experience and expertise of the people in the room is likely to be greater than that of those on the stage at traditional conferences.”

This democratic, participatory approach was also evident during the planning stages, as a wiki was set up where participants could suggest ideas for sessions they would either like to present or to attend. Oh, and suggestions for cake too! Apparently, library camps are renowned for their cakes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to time to bake anything but many people were more organised than me and turned up with an astonishing amount of whoopee pies, tiffin, brownies, cupcakes etc etc ...

The day began with people pitching ideas for sessions they’d like to lead. These were placed on post-it notes and a rough-and-ready programme was quickly assembled on a flipchart.

The first session I attended was on mental health in libraries, led by Penny Bronchia. This examined the language and attitudes we use in libraries to deal with mental illness in library users and colleagues. We discussed the way that mental health is still a taboo topic that unsettles many people, in a way that other issues (e.g. sexuality and race) largely do not. Should people with a mental health condition be “out” at work? While this may initially cause awkwardness, it can help raise awareness and tolerance among colleagues. Also, by not disclosing a mental health condition, it can be harder to access any support or assistance that the organisation can provide. We discussed how managers can best support employees with mental health conditions and we heard about schemes and reading groups some public library services run for their users.

For my second session, I chose to hear about free and open-source software from Liz Jolly and Andrew Preater. Andrew has already written a comprehensive blog post about this session, so I won’t write at length about it. We talked specifically about what OS software is and what roles it can play. But we also placed it in context by discussing why organisations may be resistant to OS software, how the collaborative mindset present in OS development can trickle in to other areas of work and what skills are necessary in the OS workplace.  I was struck in this session, as in many of the others, at the incredible depth of knowledge and expertise possessed and shared by those who weren’t leading the sessions. If this were a “normal” conference rather than an unconference, then these views would largely remain unheard.

Next, I went to a talk about classification. This session wasn’t as lively as the first two ... perhaps we’d all gone too long without a trip to the cake tables. We shared experiences of classification successes and failures, the pros and cons of in-house versus standard (e.g. LC or Dewey) systems, and the tendency for classification decisions to reflect the need of library staff rather than the need of the user. We wondered how libraries could go about systematically measuring the success of different classification schemes, in terms of how quickly users could find what they needed. We mused on how relevant traditional concepts of classification are for e-resources, especially since there isn’t the “I can only put this book in one place, even if it addresses two topics equally” mindset. E-resources can be “located” in as many locations as the user needs them to be (I recommend the book Everything is Miscellaneous for a good discussion of categorisation in the digital world).

Some participants felt there was a lack of sessions focused on academic libraries, so Christina Harbour squeezed a general academic libraries forum on to the flipchart. I feared that this was too big a topic to generate any meaningful dialogue, but we all had a very good attempt! I’ll just list some of the questions that were thrown in to the mix:

  • What impact will the rise in tuition fees have?
  • (How) should libraries ‘brand’ their e-resources, to demonstrate the link to the physical library?
  • How can we involve academics in the work of the library?
  • How do we demonstrate or quantify the value that libraries have?
  • Are converged library and IT services a good idea?
  • Does outsourcing work? If so, what services can be outsourced?
  • Should members of the public be allowed to use academic libraries?
  • How do libraries contribute to the employability agenda of universities?

Whew! I feel like we covered as much ground as I did in a whole term of the Academic Libraries module of my MSc, mainly because of the wide range of experiences and backgrounds that were shared.

I then went to a session about the logistics of lending out iPads to library users. Personally, I’d be concerned about the chances of loss or damage, but those sharing their experiences said that this was minimal. We discussed whether users should be allowed to use the iPads outside the library or off the premises, and what state they should be returned in (i.e. delete all photos and log out of Facebook and Twitter). The range of educational apps (for students, medical professionals, scientists etc) is growing all the time, but it can be hard to evaluate the quality of these, and whether they represent value for money. It seemed to me that any library wishing to start lending iPads or other tablets to their users could learn an awful lot from other libraries who’ve already taken the same step.

For the final session of the day, I intended to go to a session on open access. Due to my muddling up the rooms, I ended up in a session on Roaming Libraries. By the time I’d realised my mistake, I’d already got into conversation with the people sat next to me, so thought it would be easier to stay put. A fortuitous mistake! The speaker, whose name I didn’t catch, runs The Itinerant Poetry Library. The name is fairly self-explanatory - she travels all around the world with a poetry library, which opens up for a time (this time can vary) in bars, cafes etc. Depending on how long the library is in a city, readers may be able to take books away with them. They can then check on Twitter to see where the library will be over the next few days so that they know where to return the book.

 I learnt about Radical Reference, who are a group of professional volunteers working with political activists in the USA. Any questions that can’t be answered on the ground can be relayed back to a back-up team who will use their resources to find the answer. And then there’s the Mile High Reference Desk, who provide an information service to passengers on planes! Unlike in many other sessions, this was an area that very few of us had experience in. But it was the last session of the day, and I liked how everyone shared related experiences and anecdotes from earlier sessions they had intended. For instance, there was an earlier session about living libraries, so someone fed back their experiences from this and wondered whether a roaming library of people would be feasible. Once again, if this were a “normal” conference, this opportunity to share and synthesise ideas from other sessions may not have been possible. So, while I don’t know what I missed in the open access session, I do now know some of the amazing ways that librarians are challenging our ideas of what and where a “library” is.

There was a tremendous amount of energy and passion on display at Library Camp 2012, which was particularly impressive since everyone had given up a day of their weekend and many of us had travelled a long way early in the morning.  The conversations that started at Library Camp have continued on Twitter and blogs, and will hopefully generate some great new ideas and good practice.