Monday 24 October 2016

Internet Librarian International 2016

Last week I was given a last minute opportunity to attend one day of the Internet Librarian International  (ILI) Conference in London. This is a conference that has always been on my wish list so I jumped at the chance!

I attended on the Tuesday which was the first of two days of sessions on the theme of innovation in libraries.

Towards a sustainable environment - what libraries can learn from the 2030 agenda for sustainable development
Stuart Hamilton from IFLA began the day by talking about how libraries can contribute to the goal of sustainable development. Looking at the United Nations Development Programme goals it's easy to see how the mission of libraries fits with many of these. Perhaps the most important of these is access to information which is vital to sustainable development. Libraries can also be seen as safe spaces in an often complex world and they need to work to make sure this is known. Hamilton concluded by asking libraries to be ambitious and pursue a global agenda. 

How big data is changing libraries - and librarians 
Big data is a term with no given definition and can often be a contentious topic for the information profession who are being asked to cope with another change. 

Rafael Ball from ETH Zurich courted controversy when he talked about the advent of big data being the end of the 'ideology of accuracy' that has ruled libraries for years. Previously the information profession has dealt with comparatively small data which they could spend time analysing and creating perfect records for. This just isn't possible with big data but that doesn't mean that our skills are not still in demand. Librarians have always been able to adapt to changing formats and sources of information and I don't think big data will be any different. It will require us to think in a slightly different way, something Ball referred to as shifting the librarian way of thinking (structured data with expected results) to the big data way of thinking (unstructured data with surprise results). Hopefully colleagues will view this as an opportunity to develop their skills rather than a threat to their work.

Tools for the library innovator
This session featured two presentations on using innovative tools to showcase your information service. The first was a fascinating session from Kenn Bicknell from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Strategic innovation tools for every library type. Bicknell highlighted different ways to reach out and engage both new and existing audiences using examples from his work with the transportation archives of LA. The library uses different social media tools and websites to create engaging content using both text and images and the response has been positive. Bicknell's key message was to link all of the tools together rather than using them in isolation. Too many people start using these tools without a clear reason other than wanting to use the latest site available. If you spend some time planning and creating a strategy you can start to push people towards the content you want them to see and achieve great results.

This was followed by a demonstration of 15 sites for library innovators from Marydee Ojala. These included some sites that I had heard of and use regularly but I also picked up a few tips. The Directory of Open Access Journals provides a well indexed list of open access publications whilst Science Open allows authors and researchers to share their research in an open way. One site I hadn't come across was Smart Briefs which skims the internet, collates information on certain topics and then delivers it to you. This has the potential to be a real time saver for librarians and users.

Something to learn, something to teach: the mentoring librarian
I've taken part in the International Librarians Network (ILN) twice now and found it a really worthwhile experience. This talk by Alyson Dalby, one if the ILN founders, looked at the programme as a mentoring relationship. ILN offers a semi-structured peer mentoring relationship for participants with guided discussion topics. Unlike traditional mentoring relationships where one person has more experience and guides the other, participants can be from any career stage. Having an international online relationship can also help to overcome some other mentoring problems such as finding time to meet face to face. The group have recently published a research report on their website outlining their success which I'll be exploring in more depth.

The responsive librarian
Milena Kostic and Vesna Vuksan from the University Library Svetozar Markovic in Belgrade talked us through their approach to being The responsive librarian. Every year they run courses aimed at training their colleagues in new skills such as digital marketing, digital storytelling and social media. These courses are linked to a wider learning plan and attendees receive credits which they can use towards their annual professional development total. These in person courses have proved very popular with attendees and new courses are being developed. The courses are also well supported by library managers which is great to see. I took a lot of lessons away from this session to incorporate into my own teaching practice. 

Digital scholarship: new technologies and new behaviours
Following on from this Mia Ridge gave the second keynote of the day on her work with digital scholarship at the British Library. Some librarians are afraid of the impact of digital scholarship on their work as they are used to people coming through the doors to use the physical library rather than working online. However there is no way to avoid this so it's a good idea to develop new skills. Ridge showed that the best way to learn about digital scholarship is to actively participate but it can be hard to keep up with the tools. The British Library have developed several ways of learning about new tools from formal training to 'Hack and Yack' sessions where participants gather together to work through an online tutorial on a tool.

This keynote also included my favourite statement from the conference - that metadata is like being promised cake but instead being given the recipe. Users think that they will see the whole digital resource when what often happens is that they can access the metadata. We need to give them the tools to make the cake which means we need to understand how to use them.

Open all hours: using shared and open data in learning and the teaching of data skills
Virginia Power talked about her work educating new library professionals at the University of the West of England. Unless these new professionals improve their data literacy they will be adrift in the library of the future. Librarians need to know how to interrogate the data and there are few courses which teach this through the traditional methods. Power is currently developing a module to meet this need and I can't wait to see it. This is an issue which is very close to my professional interests and I am currently involved in research to explore the area (more on that in future blog posts).

Digital data labs
The remainder of the session was a presentation on digital data labs in Copenhagen. A data lab is "an open platform and space for education and events focusing on digital methods in the academic sciences". These online learning spaces are reflective of the fact that a lot of human activity now takes place in the digital domain. Regardless of what you think about this it does mean that it's a place where libraries need to get involved. Building data labs also helps cooperation between libraries and faculty - something which many academic libraries strive for.

A collaborative approach to developing new library services
Much of Julia Barrett's talk on developing a new scholarly communication service at University College Dublin (UCD) struck a chord with me as I've been working in a similar area. Barrett spoke about the confusion researchers have around the terminology of scholarly communication and compliance issues. Library staff need to work to demystify this, something we have been actively doing in Cambridge. Currently UCD are working to develop a single portal which brings together all of the services on offer to researchers at UCD and tie this into the research cycle. Again this is something we are currently working on in Cambridge so I look forward to seeing the results. 

From vision to reality: developing a collaborative library and information service for nature conservation
The last presentation I attended was given by two Cambridge librarians - Andrew Alexander from the Judge Business School and Lizzie Sparrow from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI). The presenters talked about their roles in creating a new library service from scratch - an opportunity that doesn't come up every day. They wanted the library to be central to the new conservation centre but at the same time to be a user centred service that reached out to people at their desks. With the idea that the librarian is more important than the library they have created an effective and well used service which is at the heart of the CCI.

If anyone gets the chance to attend the conference in the future, it's definitely one I would recommend. I was only there for a day but I've come away with many contacts and ideas which is always the sign of a day well spent! 

Monday 3 October 2016

Reflections on IFLA WLIC 2016

This is the last in a series of posts about my experience of IFLA WLIC 2016. Other posts can be found here.

I've been back from Columbus for just over a month now and it feels like I'm finally catching up with everything I missed when I was away. Now is also a good time to think back and reflect on what I learnt at IFLA and how I'm applying it at work.

Firstly I want to say that everything you have read/heard about large international conferences is true - they are completely overwhelming. I don't necessarily mean this in a bad way but one thing I learnt was not to underestimate the importance of taking time out if you need it. I tried to go to EVERYTHING as I'm well aware this could be my only chance to attend an event like this. Thinking back I should have built more time into my schedule for downtime from the start. The days were really long with sessions lasting from 8.30am to 6.00pm and I was often hopping from one to another meaning that lunch was constantly eaten on the go (if at all!). I'm quite introverted so I need that bit of quiet time to recharge and I should have included this in my planning.

Another thing I learnt was that it is indeed perfectly normal to switch sessions. Each session was about two hours long and made up of several 15/20 minute presentations so there was a natural pause in proceedings if you wanted to get to another session. It took me a few days to work up the nerve to switch sessions but I'm glad I did as I wound up going to some great sessions I would otherwise have missed. It's not rude in any way, it's just about learning as much as you can. I'm still not sure that the practice will ever take off here in the UK but at least if it does I'll be prepared!

I've talked to a lot of colleagues (both in person and online) since I've been back and they've all been curious about the experience of attending such a big conference. It's one thing to read about people attending events like this but another to have someone you know describing it to you. Everyone has been curious about different aspects of the conference (the opening ceremony in particular!) and it has been really great to share my experience with them. Hopefully I've helped to demystify the whole conference thing a bit and other people will think of applying to attend in the future. 

One really useful thing to come out of the conference is the contacts I made. I did some 'pre-conference networking' online before I went and then met with various people at the actual conference. This turned out to be really useful as we were able to talk through plans and issues and get things off the ground. Having this personal contact has really helped to move the projects forward and I think they are in a much better place than they would have been had we just talked online. I also met lots of new people of course and it was a great way to expand my network.

Talking to people from around the world and listening to their presentations I found it very reassuring that we are all facing similar problems. One thing I particularly wanted to explore was the problem of staff engagement with professional development and many of the sessions I attended gave me some really good tips. Chats in the lunch line or at the vendor exhibition were also really helpful. I have to say that it was in situations like this where the elevator pitch we had to practice as part of the CILIP Leadership Programme really came in handy! It stopped a lot of awkward pauses and led to lots of interesting conversations. 

I've also been putting a lot of what I learnt into action since I got back. There will be times when I'm sitting in a meeting or having a brainstorming session and I find myself saying "I saw this thing at IFLA....". Many of the sessions I attended were really inspiring and I came away with lots of ideas of things to try. I have my previous blog posts to refer back to but I also filled a notebook with notes which are sure to come in handy! So many libraries around the world are doing really innovative things and having a chance to ask about them in person was a real bonus. I've also passed ideas onto colleagues where appropriate and I know they've found that helpful.

So this concludes my IFLA experience (on this blog at least). If you want to know more there will be a conference report on the CILIP website and a piece in Update very soon. IFLA 2017 is being held in Wroclaw, Poland and although nothing is certain it's possible I might get a chance to attend again to show off the fruits of collaborations started at IFLA 2016. I hope that these posts have been helpful in giving a flavor of the conference experience, including planning and preparation. If people take away nothing else from these posts I would just like to encourage everyone to apply when you see bursaries offered. The worst answer you will get is no but I promise you that if you get a yes it will be SO worth it!!