Saturday, 20 October 2012

Library Camp 2012

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote anything on this blog. A combination of a busy start of Autumn term and being a bit unwell for a while has lead me to fall behind with life in general. However, I managed to make it to this year’s national Library Camp.  It was held in Birmingham again, but at a different venue. Once again it was free to attend and took place on Saturday, which I found really helpful – it’s super-difficult to take time off work at this point in the term! I won’t explain the unconference concept again – see mypost from last year’s national Camp or see the Library Camp website – basically the agenda is set on the day when participants propose sessions, there are no presentations, and it’s OK to get up and leave a session if you think you might gain more somewhere else.

As usual there was a cakecamp running alongside the library stuff. This year I felt confident enough in my ability to bake without poisoning anyone and brought along my vegetarian rocky road (based on the lovely Nigella’s recipe – swap the marshmallows for dried fruit and glace cherries). I was very impressed at the quality of the baking and ate far too much cake, as usual!

I had decided I wasn’t going to propose any sessions, having lead two at Library Camp South West in Exeter in July (which I never got round to blogging about as I flew off on holiday the day after so the moment was lost – apologies!) and finding it very scary and intense and not doing it very well! As usual there were lots of proposals and I found it difficult to decide where best to go; there were some sets of sessions where I would have liked to go to several of them and others where I wasn’t immediately grabbed by anything. I’m not sure I ended up choosing the right sessions every time.

The first session I attended was on swearing – what do you do when someone tells you to fuck off? Expertly led by Sarah, this session was well attended by people from a range of sectors. We discussed how the context in which someone is swearing affects how acceptable or not it is; obviously it’s not when the swearing is directed at staff in aggression, and casual swearing in conversation is not OK in certain environments. We also discussed what kind of training we’d had on dealing with aggressive behaviour and how useful it had been; the feeling was expressed that often the authorities organising the training aren’t aware of the kind of aggressive behaviour library staff can face. We seemed to all agree that there needs to be a policy in place for dealing with swearing and aggressive behaviour, and that we need to know that we have the support of management. This made me think about the policies we have for the online Chat co-op that my library is part of. I work on this service for 3 hours per fortnight, and there are loads of guidelines in place for Chatting, including very clear guidelines on how to handle aggressive patrons. Chat is a strange and challenging environment to work in as it moves quickly and you don’t have eye contact or body language to work with, but I feel confident that I would know what to do if I was faced with swearing or aggression there, due to good, clear policies that everyone uses. This session also made me reflect on the training I’ve had on dealing with aggressive behaviour; it was helpful, but university-wide rather than library-specific, so it didn’t deal with library situations or policies. It was interesting to talk about the differences between sectors – academic library users are essentially stakeholders so they hold a different status to users of a school or FE library, for example, which can affect how we can deal with difficult behaviour; again, it would be helpful to have specific training for our library environment. We are actually going to have a session on “managing student behaviour” from our Library Customer Services team leader as part of our staff development programme next month, so I am now thinking that this will be really useful and will do my best to attend.

The second session I went to was the #uklibchat live session on careers. The “live” element was meant to include live-tweeting it and engaging with those not at Library Camp joining in on Twitter, but patchy wi-fi made this aspect challenging! I took away some useful websites for job-hunting with which I wasn’t already familiar. Someone pointed out that everyone seemed a bit subdued in this session; there was certainly an agreement that there is a huge amount of competition out there for jobs and that it really is tough at the moment to find something suitable. This really brought home to me how lucky I am to have been made permanent in my role recently.

Next, I attended a session on media literacy. I went to this one as I wasn’t entirely sure what media literacy was, but had been hearing a lot about it.  This session was another one where there were attendees from a range of sectors, which I felt really enriched the discussion. We talked about various aspects of media literacy; how to explain biases in newspapers and television news and how to encourage information-literate use of the internet. Many of the attendees were from school, college and public libraries so much of the conversation was about children and young people. Some really good suggestions were made, such as encouraging children to publish on the internet themselves i.e. on blogs to help them understand that copying and pasting from the internet is stealing other people’s work (how would they feel if someone took their blog post without asking or attributing it to them?), getting children to edit Wikipedia pages to show them how easy it is for anyone to do, and creating displays to explain how different newspapers have different biases. What I took away from this session was the idea that maybe I should be talking to school and college librarians and teachers about what kinds of information literacy are taught at school if any, and at what kind of point the first-year students who come to use are with information literacy. We have a limited amount of time with the students – usually an hour, or maybe two, per year, and then whenever they come to the desk or to Chat to ask for help with searching – so it would be helpful to know this in order to help shape our advice and training to make it as useful and effective as possible. I also think it would be great to have some more cross-sector discussions about information literacy in the future, at Library Camps or other events.

After a lovely lunch, sessions began again, and I went off to Michelle’s session on living and working abroad. I had put out a request on the wiki for someone to talk about this, as it is a personal interest and ambition of mine, and Michelle kindly volunteered to share her immense knowledge on this  topic. Michelle has lived and worked in six countries and, while none of this work was in library or information services, she still had loads of advice for making the move abroad for those of us who were interested in it. She spoke highly of working holiday visas, which are offered by Australia, New Zealand and Canada, generally with an age limit of 18 to 30 or 35. These last for one or two years and allow you to work, though the main purpose of your time there should be holidaying. There are also restrictions such as not being able to work for the same employer for more than six months. This is definitely an option I’d consider in the future; I’m not sure whether I’d be able to find temporary library work (the point was made in the session that library jobs are being cut pretty much everywhere, and that in some countries there are laws which mean that a foreign applicant can only be given a job if no suitable citizen has applied for it) but it would allow me to experience living in another country. Michelle has since sent me a link to this useful website about working holiday visas.

We talked about expenses and finding somewhere to live; Michelle explained that she lived in hostels and that this is OK if you don’t mind sharing a room – they are cheap, there may be other people living there rather than just passing through with whom you can make friends, and you can often get your bed free in return for cleaning the hostel or similar. Again, this is an option I would consider in the future, although I do wonder if I’m now a bit old for that!

We also discussed the CILIP LIBEX international library and information job exchange, where you can arrange to job-swap with a librarian or information manager in another country. I have looked at this scheme before, but one big problem with this is that you are supposed to swap homes too – I rent a small, damp one-bed flat so I can’t do this; another participant said she’d been actively pursuing exchanges through this programme but they had fallen through for this very reason – she would need to swap with someone who was in a position to live in a room in a shared house. The other problem would be getting work to agree to it; we are in a challenging position at work at the moment so a swap just wouldn’t be do-able. This does look like a great scheme for someone whose work and living situations allow for it to happen though, and one that I will consider in the future if my situation changes.

I really enjoyed this session – it was good to hear about Michelle’s experiences. Michelle pointed out that waiting for the “right time” to travel is often in vain – there is never really a “right time” so really you just need to do it if you want to. I am very guilty of thinking it’s never the “right time” so this has given me something to think about.

For my next session I decided to go and find out about iPad lending in libraries. We heard about experiences from FE and medical libraries. In the FE library this was as a response to not having enough computers, and in the medical library it seemed to be more to do with the number of electronic journals now read and used by the users. We talked about the benefits of using iPads – as mentioned, they ease the strain on the computer area, if you allow them out of the library then users may find that helpful, and the apps available can be useful – and also the challenges; cost, security, damage, limitations of being able to create work i.e. essays on them, and the need to clear them before loaning them out again. What was surprising for me was that the things that immediately sprang to my mind as being potential massive problems – copyright/licencing issues and security/damage – did not appear to have been big problems so far. I found it really useful to hear about these experiences; I am not aware of any plans at my institution to loan out mobile devices at the moment, but in the future I will feel able to contribute to discussions about this if they arise.

For my final session I chose to learn about web services and widgets, and how library data can be used. I’m afraid I was late to arrive so I missed some of this session and I don’t think I really caught up! The discussion was around ways of using library data to make services more useful, and I think to allow for personalisation. There seemed to be quite a few issues around getting hold of this data, particularly for public libraries. I will look out for other blog posts on this session to find out what I missed, as it sounded interesting!

There ended Library Camp 2012, and it was time to find our way back to central Birmingham and to the pub (I apologise to all concerned for my embarrassing lack of geographical knowledge of my home city – in my defence, I only lived there until I was 18 so if I needed to get anywhere other than my local area or the city centre, my Dad would drive me [as he did that morning!], so I never paid attention!). As I’ve explained in my write-ups of the sessions, I did take away some useful thoughts and ideas. However, I’m not sure I attended all of the right sessions. It’s tricky with an unconference – without a pre-planned programme you need to decide quickly which sessions you are going to attend, and the nature of an unconference means that you don’t know what a session is going to end up being about as you would in a conference session with a presentation and structure. This year we were given leaflets containing a space to write down sessions (space for all of them) and plan your day, which was really helpful, however! What I should have done was write down every session so I could decide whether to leave a session and go to another one.

A few people have commented that Library Camp this year was a bit subdued, and I’m afraid I have to agree. I think that part of this was personal; I wasn’t feeling 100% so I don’t think I contributed to discussions or conversations as well as I do when I’m my usual cheery self – but there was still an air of something. The time of year (busy teaching schedules and the gloom of approaching winter after a rubbish rainy summer) maybe? Or the general economic gloom at the moment? I’m not too sure. Whatever it was, I don’t think it was any fault of the event itself, so I’d like to say a big well done and thank you to the organisers. Maybe next time things will be looking happier.


  1. I tried to comment on this earlier from my phone but it never works!

    I know what you mean about the subdued feeling, a few others have said the same. I may have ended up in some sessions that I didn't enjoy as much as I thought I would, but I suppose that is a hazard of events like this. I don't want to rule out future library camps because I still think they are worthwhile.

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