Monday 6 July 2015

CILIP Conference 2015

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the annual CILIP Conference in the stunning St. George's Hall in Liverpool. I've attended the conference only once before when it was still Umbrella and enjoyed the experience but CILIP seemed to have upped their game even further with the new annual conference (and especially the conference drinks reception during which we had the run of the Museum of Liverpool). I've compiled some thoughts on the event below and whilst I've tried to make it as short as I can there were many points that I wanted to touch on. The conference had four main themes:
  • Information management
  • Information literacy and digital inclusion
  • Demonstrating value
  • Digital futures and technology

Having taken the New Librarianship Masterclass I was already familiar with a lot of the ideas of the first speaker - R. David Lankes. A couple of the things he talked about stuck with me and seemed to provide a recurring theme for many of the speeches over the next two days. Lankes spoke about the need for librarians to 'control the narrative' about libraries and he suggested that we do this through being present, whether that is out in our communities or sitting at the table when decisions are made about our service. Most librarians I know do this in some way but its important to be reminded of it. I know that I sometimes shy away from promoting what I have done and this is something I need to improve on. Luckily the conference gave me a lot of ideas on how to do this. 

This theme was repeated by Stuart Hamilton, the Deputy Secretary General of IFLA, who discussed the need to talk about libraries in the language of the policy makers. Get invited in to the big discussions and make your case for the importance of your service. Hamilton outlined how access to information supports the development of countries and communities and called on those in the information profession to help protect it. A similar call was issued by Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty who talked about the importance of human rights. She considered access to information as a basic human right and tasked the information profession with helping to defend it. Asked to name the one most important thing that the profession could do she asked us to make sure that people had access to the Human Rights Act. There is a lot of misinformation about the Act in the press and the only way to truly make an informed decision is to read it. Chakrabarti also discussed the differences between secrecy and privacy. The innocent may have nothing to fear when it comes to people prying into our lives but that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with a desire for privacy. Author Cory Doctorow spoke about the same thing and took issue with the assumption that secrecy is a key component of security.

There was also an insight from Barbara Schack into the fascinating Ideas Box project which provides access to information and information spaces in crisis situations. Each box contains the tools to create a local network for online access as well as books and tablets. This project links back to the sessions mentioned above where librarians were called on to preserve access to information. Joseph O'Leary from Full Fact outlined the work of his service which provides fact checking in situations such as the recent election. This service allows people to make informed decisions without the spin.

The final keynote came from Erwin James, a columnist at the Guardian and former prisoner. He gave a very moving speech about his experiences of using a prison library and how this helped in his rehabilitation. He painted an honest picture of life behind bars and how something seemingly as small as a book from the library can help you overcome your demons. I've always found talks about prison libraries fascinating as it is so far removed from anything I have experience of. Having the talk from the point of view of a prisoner rather than a librarian certainly gave me some food for thought. 

Demonstrating impact
This was the strand I attended most as it's a major professional interest of mine. From Output to Impact was a chance to put together a toolkit for measuring the impact of an activity or service that we provide. Tying in with the keynotes on how librarians add value Carolyn Rankin and Sue Reynolds discussed the different ways in which we can add that something extra for our users. The presenters highlighted the need for qualitative information to highlight impact which I was relieved to see as I believe numbers only tell you part of the story. Andy Ryan of CityRead London gave a very passionate talk on her work to encourage more people to read by creating an immersive experience. Again the theme of community was mentioned as the programme helps to get the community reading together. Mary Dunne talked about Communicating your Value in a Way That Works. Linking back to the keynote delivered by Lankes she talked of changing the conversation around libraries by including value propositions. These short statements profile key member groups such as users or stakeholders and target the things they value. For example you might show how the library links to management strategies or how it fulfills a key user need. The trick is to keep these statements short and focused, much like an elevator pitch. Dunne finished by reminding us that what we do is just a mechanism to do our jobs. It makes more of an impact to say why.

Also launched at the conference was the CILIP Impact Toolkit. Further information can be found here

Information management
Elisabeth Goodman and John Ridell talked about How to Add Value to your Organisation as a Knowledge Facilitator. The benefits outlined were both organisational and personal and included creating a culture of innovation and enhancing the CPD of the knowledge facilitator. As readers of this blog will know I am always in favor of anything that enhances your CPD! By Making the Right Connections Denise Carter outlined information professionals can engage stakeholders. Carter claimed that preparation is the key to success - if you want people to come along with you then you have to know where you are going. Think of engaging with your stakeholders as a marketing campaign and plan it accordingly including staff time and other resources needed. She also cautioned us not to over-engage with our targets. You don't want to come across as too pushy.

Information literacy and digital inclusion
Adam Edwards and Vanessa Hill gave an engaging Abba themed presentation on methods of teaching information literacy. There are several issues with trying to provide effective information literacy teaching such as a lack of embedding and the bad timing of some sessions. Edwards and Hill argued that librarians often try to teach three to five times as much information as their students can cope with. I know that I've had this experience on library inductions - trying to cram everything in as you don't know if/when you will see the students again. To solve this problem the presenters have gone back to basics and used a game approach to encourage their students to learn. These social activities allow peer learning to take place, something which the presenters have found success with. Although this method might not appeal to all it is certainly something to consider as an alternate approach. We tried out one of the games in the session and it made for some lively discussion. Further information and instructions can be found here.

Digital futures and technology
I'm a big fan of MOOCs so I was really interested to hear about Resisting the MOOC Stampede. Anthea Sutton and Helen Buckley Woods talked about their project which brings small scale web CPD courses to librarians. Numbers are limited to 30-49 participants and focus on various professional topics such as customer care and measuring impact. These smaller coursed have several advantages over huge MOOCs such as creating a tight knit community and the fact that instructors can provide detailed feedback to all participants. Completion rates of the courses average at 97% and is measured by the completion of an e-portfolio. There is also a reflective writing element - no doubt something many CILIP members are familiar with! Further information on the FOLIO courses can be found here.

Leo Appleton and Andy Tattersall looked at how librarians can harness the power of social media. They told us that social media is constantly developing and its important to keep on top of it. Although library use of social media has traditionally been limited to advertising the service the presenters outlined new uses such as an online enquiry service. For this reason it is important that we keep checking our online presence. If we have a presence on sites then our users will find it. They finished by discussing the importance of altmetrics and how social media is used for research. Academics have to measure impact and this can increasingly be done through measuring their online presence, for example the number of Mendeley reads an article has had. Although these altmetrics don't replace traditional measures they can be used as an interesting complement. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the conference and came away with lots of ideas to try. Although it was a very full few days I managed to meet lots of people I've only known via Twitter. As always with these conferences the most important chats happen over tea and this was no exception. I would encourage anyone who has a chance to attend another conference to give it a go - you will regret it far more if you don't!

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